Alaïa afore Alaïa, the anthology to discover everything about the Tunisian couturier

© Arthur Elgort – Azzedine Alaïa and Naomi Campbell. Photograph by Arthur Elgorts, 1987.

Written by several hands, including those of Carla Sozzani, president and co-founder of the Azzedine Alaïa Foundation, Alaïa afore Alaïa tells the first moments of the life and career of the Tunisian couturier, through the many friendships he has made. Of relationships where the female figure is sovereign, starting with her paternal grandmother. “Small, dark-skinned, and of Hindu ancestry, Alaïa’s grandmother, Manou Bia, embodied the joy of life. He was proud to look like her.” Through almost purely feminine stories, he travels with Alaïa from Tunisia to Paris.

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Azzedine Alaïa and Pat Cleveland. Azzedine Alaïa, jacket in blue Astrakhan and monkey, 1981. Photograph by Jean-François Jonvelle.

© Jean-Francois Jonvelle.

In Tunis, during his youth, the voices of the bourgeoisie stand out such as the elegant Latifa Ben Abdallah but also of Madame Pineau, a midwife, a family friend, who encourages him to become a stylist. On the thread of the pages, numerous archival photographs, as well as quotes and press articles, draw the whole of his career, and continuously underline the great modesty that characterized him. “I’ve never forgotten where I’m from, I’m from the Arab city of Tunis, I’m from the souk” he tells the magazine Interviews in October 1990.

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Leila Menchari and Azzedine Alaïa, rue de Bellechasse, 1967. Photograph by Jean-Pierre Ronzel.

© Jean-Pierre Ronzel. Archives Hermès.

Then there is the arrival in Paris, in 1956 – “and so there I was, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, with my camel wool coat, made by an Italian tailor, it had to be fastened with lapels, it was full of style ” -, city that never leaves. “In Paris, Alaïa was one of the last people, along with Pierre Cardin, who knew how to create a garment from A to Z, from the cut to the buttonholes,” recalls the book. In her historic house-atelier in rue de Bellechasse, her clients parade, and more famous encounters, including Greta Garbo. “It was Cécile de Rothschild who brought it to me”, he says “I entered the room and saw Garbo on a sofa. And Cécile de Rothschild said to me: ‘I won’t introduce you, Mr. Alaïa’. I replied ‘No Mademoiselle, it is not necessary ‘”. For the diva, Alaïa designed a “huge, very large” coat, to “be invisible and extraordinary at the same time”.

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Leila Menchari and Azzedine Alaia, at Jean-Claude Pascal’s house, Hammamet, 1966.

© Jean-Pierre Ronzel. Archives Hermès.

Adopted by the Parisian fashion elite, the couturier will be invited to join the prestigious and exclusive Chambre syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, in 1971. Yet “Alaïa was not a member of any organization. When you rang, he opened the door himself and sometimes pushed away customers”. However, Azzedine Alaïa has organized his diary according to a more oriental view of the time. “They have watches and we have time,” his grandmother had told him. He only swore by the present. Immediate. Eternal. Not dated. The message was clear and did not undergo any parody. “I want to make real clothes that make people beautiful.”

Alaïa afore Alaïa, the anthology to discover everything about the Tunisian couturier