Azzedine Alaïa Exhibit Looks at His Early Years in Paris

EARLY DAYS: “Alaïa afore Alaïa,” the latest exhibit at the Fondation Azzedine Alaïa, explores the designer’s formative years and the friendships that inspired him.

It recounts his time in design school in Tunis in the ’50s, through the first days in Paris as he honed his craft, up until the moment he became a world famous designer in 1979.

The show, which opens today, upends the normal exhibition style. The written word is placed front and center using archive documents, sketches and photos to create stories and snapshots in time.

Some of the designer’s most memorable pieces are displayed through slim windows at unexpected and teasing angles, framed by quotes from those who knew him, which allows you to peek inside, jewel-box style, to view some of his creations.

“In the past we did some beautiful exhibitions but we were more focused on dresses than information, and this is absolutely the opposite,” said curator Olivier Saillard. The exhibit is rich in history and detail. “We have every bit of information you can learn about Alaïa with the documents. It’s a different kind of exhibition – you have to concentrate more to read about his life.”

Fondation president Carla Sozzani, acted as archivist and handled the artistic direction.

Leïla Menchari and Azzedine Alaïa in Paris, 1967
Leïla Menchari and Azzedine Alaïa in Paris, 1967

The first floor touches on early influences, including his twin sister Haifa and the Catholic nuns of the Sisters of Sion order, whose religious habits later inspired headwear designs, and walks through eras and friends including Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele and Gilles Bensimon.

Upstairs is a room dedicated to childhood friend and his lifelong muse, the model and designer Leila Menchari, expressed through notes and photos including intimate, candid photobooth-style snaps.

Late designer Thierry Mugler also plays a big part in the display, as he did in Alaïa’s life.

“It feels very strange to talk about him in the past,” Saillard said of Mugler, who passed away Jan. 23. “But he has a very large place in the exhibition and he was a very big supporter of Azzedine in the 1970s.” Mugler’s encouragement took Alaïa to New York and launched him from sewing behind the scenes to international stardom.

Saillard hopes the exhibit can encourage young creatives to be inspired by Alaïa’s humble origins and his rise through the fashion world through craft, inspiration and dedication. “His work is more important than the style,” said Saillard. “He had a style, but he was very dedicated to always learning about technique.”

The museum is planning deep-dives into Alaïa’s technique and inspirations with monthly talks scheduled throughout the duration of the exhibit.

“Azzedine afore Alaïa” runs through Oct. 24, 2022.

This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com.

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