Dear Shaded Viewers,
My first exposure to Azzedine Alaïa occurred when I was nothing more than a piccolo bambino back in the 1980s. My babysitter would park my stroller in a corner of the Michael Todd Room at Palladium and leave me with a book of energetic and whimsical Jean-Paul Goude photos to while away the time. There was Alaïa, the diminutive designer from Tunisia, popping out of a stack of boxes from his fashion boutique or pulling the ties of a corset as he rode one of his models like a jockey on an Arabian stallion.
A few years later it was all my fellow kindergarten students and I could talk about. In 1985 we snuck into a screening of the James Bond film “A View to a Kill” and swooned over Grace Jones in a lissome bandage dress by Alaïa. From that moment forward, I understood that some women were destined to be warriors—and Alaïa was born to dress them.
What a thrill it was to meet the designer, years later in the summer of 2002, in the courtyard of his headquarters in the Marais. I was the New York Editor of the wildly influential Dutch magazine and this was my first Paris Fashion Week party. Not that Azzedine was on the official schedule. He’s infamous for showing whenever and wherever he pleases. (He also does not advertise.) All he needs to do is blow a dog whistle and hundreds of fashion editors will instantly leap from their seats—whether it’s the front row at Chanel or a chamber pot—and run as fast as they can so they can witness with their own eyes what the master couturier has whipped up.
“Couture/Sculpture: Azzedine Alaïa in the History of Fashion,” which opened at the Galleria Borghese in Rome during AltaRoma, is nothing short of a triumph. Sixty-five Alaïa pieces, many of them re-made to stand tall under the galleries’ soaring ceilings, are juxtaposed with some of the world’s greatest Greek and Roman sculptures, important masterpieces by Canova and Bernini, and paintings by Caravaggio and the great Renaissance masters.
Wandering through the palatial rooms while taking in the works is a phantasmagoric experience; a double dose of Stendhal Syndrome. More than one visit is required to fully appreciate the way Alaïa carefully chose each design to complement the works of art they are displayed near. It’s a religious experience of draping, in fabric and in marble.
Heavenly beauty, divine couture.
Alaïa re-made this dress in an elongated version to be displayed under the gallery’s soaring ceiling. Grace Jones wore the original in the 1985 film “A View to a Kill.”
The one and only Azzedine Alaïa at the press preview.
Alaïa and the Egyptian Room: the gods are smiling.
Sharkskin and seashells. I should borrow this for next year’s Mermaid Parade.
Everyone was mad for the alligator jacket.
Gilded chain dress worn by—who else?—Tina Turner.
At the Rome Times Hotel before the Alaïa opening cocktail: me, Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style and Rebecca Voight of W magazine.
Legendary milliner Stephen Jones and Pashion magazine editor Susan Sabet. Mr. Jones and designer Alessandra Carta had an amusing exchange about the marijuana hat that Stephen designed in the ’80s and that Alessandra has somewhere in storage. I begged her to find it and wear it to cocktails at Hotel Locarno, but no dice.
Alessandra Carta, moi and Susan Sabet.
Thanks for reading.