This article was first printed in PETRIe 66 (2014). Part two of a four-part article.
Read part one here.
Zadrian Smith: What role has fate played in your journey throughout life?
Monsieur Azzedine Alaïa: Each person has luck or not, and every person has their destiny and that’s it. In the beginning, I never thought I would be a designer or stylist. I was just happy to be in Paris. You have to work hard so things materialise themselves.
ZS: Did you have dreams growing up?
MAA: When I was growing up, I worked at a couture house for a lady named...
ZS (Excitedly interrupts MAA midsentence): ...Madame Richard.
MAA: There’s no need for me to tell you this then. I’ve repeated this a million times.
Yellow light! Red Light! Stop! The ice was starting to form again and an under the table nudge from Esmeralda Duran made me realise that only two questions in, and we were already losing Monsieur Alaïa’s interest. I needed to think of an angle that Julian Schnabel, Monsieur Alaïa’s close friend and long-time collaborator, did not cover in his piece ‘The Artistry of Alaïa’ - and a topic not discussed in Monsieur Alaïa’s conversation with enigmatic stylist and friend, Carlyne Cerf De Dudzeele, both for Interview’s June 2014 issue. There was no time for the general press junket questions.
In the words of Monsieur Alaïa: “If people want to know the basics about my career and life, they can Google me or have my team send them a press release.” Those were all my questions out the window. The time had come to think fast.
ZS: Is it true that at 10 years old you started a career delivering babies?
MAA (Chuckles with arms firmly crossed): I was in Tunisia and the midwife that brought me to life, Madame Pineau, would have me help her deliver babies. Sometimes, whilst she was delivering, I would trace magazine pictures from her catalogues and redraw everything. I always chose with Madame Pineau the dresses and things she wanted to wear for the summer.
At this point in the interview, my intentions were to ask about Monsieur Alaïa’s early career within the fashion industry, but I didn’t dare risk losing him again. So, for those readers not familiar with the history of Azzedine Alaïa, here is a quick recap. At 15 years old, Monsieur Alaïa lied about his age so that he could enrol at the École des Beaux-Arts to study sculpture. The required age to enrol was 16.
He moved to Paris in the early 1950s and worked at Christian Dior for a record-breaking five days. His Arabic nationality was met with trepidation in Paris due to the Algerian War of Independence, which started in 1954 and led to him being sacked from his design position. According to Monsieur Alaïa, “I learned everything I needed to know at Dior in five days.” Ironically, in 1991, Dior offered Alaïa a position as designer... one that he rejected.
In 1979, after two seasons working for Guy Laroche and being encouraged by his close friend Thierry Mugler, Monsieur Alaïa launched his first collection of suits and coats. By 1982, he had been featured in the fashion industry’s bible, Vogue, crystallising his status as one of Paris’ new premier designers.
ZS: What role has the media played in conveying your image to the public?
MAA: The media has always been very just with me. I prefer that people just write what they think; that’s their job and that’s very normal. It’s very rare that I see something that is misrepresented about me.
ZS: Today, fashion journalists are struggling to give candid opinions of designer’s collections for fear of being blacklisted by a house, which leaves most collection reviews very formulaic and patronising...
MAA: Yes, this is true because there are a lot of things at play. The journalists have obligations and they have things they have to say and do. I’m sure they have much talent to do real things and write more honestly, but right now they’re taking it in all different directions that are not actually theirs.
ZS: As a designer, who do you turn to for feedback on your collections?
MAA: I don’t care what people think.
Words: Zadrian Smith
Image source: Jean François Rault, 1985