PHOTOGRAPHY PIERRE ANTOINE & OTHER | TEXT HANS FONK

In the cavernous halls and dark rooms of the newly renovated Palais Galliera in Paris stand seventy-four perfectly spotlighted pieces by designer Azzedine Alaïa. The exhibition, named Alaïa, is the courtier first full retrospective in the fashion capitol. Olivier Saillard is director and curator of the museum, and responsible for the exhibit. He reopened Palais Galliera in september 2013 with “Alaïa” on a crusade to devote the institution “not to fashion but the sculpture of fashion.” With the works of Azzedine – sculptor and designer extraordinaire – on display he underlined this devotion.

The curves, the backless shapes, the impeccable stitching, incredible materials, tight fits, metal rings, and improbable slits – the presented Azzedine pieces in Palais Galliera are nothing short of dramatic and tell the tale of a sculptor-turned-designer with a true pedigree. Alaïa who is of Tunisian origin, has been an integral part of the fashion world for three decades. In the 80’s Tina Turner wore a little black number from the couturier on the cover of Private Dancer. More recently Rihanna turned heads on the red carpet in an equally red gown. Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni, Greta Garbo, Naomi Campbell, Madonna; the list of women dressed by the Azzedine is just as long as it is impressive.

He is notorious for accentuating the female form in all its touted glory. He still managed to create a cohesive oeuvre in which he himself sees continuity and timelessness. “I think I can say my clothes are un-dateable, they were made to last. I don’t believe I have responded to any demands or imperatives other than those of the women who surround me and continue to surround me”, says Alaïa.

During his career he won important prices: In 1985 he won two Fashion Oscars in Paris and was feted at the CAPC Museum of Contemporary art in Bordeaux. In 1998 his first retrospective was organized in the Groninger museum in The Netherlands, alongside works by Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anselm Kiefer and others. With the Parisian retrospective now a reality the designer’s already rock-solid place on the catwalk has simply been confirmed.

Palais Galliera, an ornate late-19th-century building in the antiquated neo-Renaissance style, was originally intended to house the art collection of a fabulously wealthy socialite, Maria, Duchess of Galliera. It has been home to the city’s fashion museum since the 1970s. Now the freshly painted ox blood walls and intricate mosaic tiles offer dramatic backdrops to Azzedine’s striking designs. On view are ethereal chiffon frocks in dusty bronzes, deep reds and faded purples that flutter and float near the entrance. Spotlighted African inspired numbers decorated with fringe and feathers, Victorian influenced outfits with lace accents and sharp, tailored dresses and coats don’t disappoint. In a solitary niche stands the scarlet dress (designed in 1997) in which Rihanna recently turned heads. And of course there are other iconic pieces, such as the white bandage-without-bondage stretch dress inspired by ancient Greece and the bias cut, hooded, nude dress that Grace Jones famously wore.

Across the gardens in the Matisse Room at the Musée d’Art modern stand a dramatic, full-skirted gown made out of pearl embroidered raffia and detailed tailcoat that is the spitting image of a crocodile sliding through water, its tail seemingly submerged enough so only a sliver is visible. Displayed in front of Matisse’s La Danse ou Lutte des Nymphes mural are three body conscious, sumptuously rich robes in the same colours as the painting behind them. Designer Martin Szekely is responsible for the overall scenography of the exhibit.

Read the full story in OBJEKT©International #64