Fashion has a hard time being taken seriously as art. But the works of certain designers are definitely worthy of a place on a museum pedestal. Azzedine Alaïa is one of those designers.
The Design Museum’s new show was co-curated by and organised with the designer prior to his death at the end of last year. As an exhibition, the concept is simple: the room is dominated by Glamazon mannequins decked out in Alaïa’s insanely detailed, sculptural creations.
Fittingly for a designer famous for refusing to let the fashion calendar dictate what and when he designed, the dresses are organised thematically, not seasonally or chronologically. So you get, for example, ‘Exploring Volume’, where teeny bodices teeter on top of massive, dome-shaped skirts made of endless pleats, folds and ruffles. Or ‘Black Silhouettes’, which, like much of the exhibition, shows how Alaia returned to his favourite concepts throughout his long career.
Basically, you’re here to see the clothes. And what clothes! Every garment on display is a masterpiece of texture, shape, cut and colour. There are metallic flamenco-esque dresses glistening like sweetie wrappers, pastel pink Grecian drapery, and sex – a whole lot of sex.
Alaïa’s USP was making women look like women. I mean, sure, his supermodel clients look nothing like what most of us sarnie-munching humans could aspire to, but he wasn’t afraid of a woman’s curves. His designs were boob-boosting, hip-hugging, feminine.
Which is why Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in ‘Clueless’, wearing a bodycon scarlet Alaïa, squeals at the ignominy of having to lie down in a car park when she’s been mugged, as ruining the dress is way worse than losing a mobile. In a documentary portrait showing at the exhibition, created by Joe McKenna – which is well worth taking the time to watch – French stylist Carlyne Cerf sums up why women love Alaïa: ‘They want to be sexy and they want to be divine.’
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