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Where They Were Then

Where They Were Then: Azzedine Alaïa

Where They Were Then BY nathalie gorman 07/27/2011


Greta Garbo loved his clothes so much she visited his studio in disguise so that she could avoid the paparazzi on the way to fittings. Naomi Campbell calls him Papa. When Carine Roitfeld wants a dress that no one else will have, he’s her pick. MObama has several custom pieces. Basically, A.A. is what one might call straight thug. So what’s his secret? He takes people who come to his studio for fittings upstairs to his apartment and cooks them dinner. He goes to bed at 5:00 and wakes up at 9:00. He almost never does fashion shows because he thinks they’re silly, and he thinks deadlines are kind of like a theory—and a not very interesting one. Below, a brief history. 

1940 - Azzedine Alaïa is born in Jemmal, Tunisia, on June 7, along with a twin sister. As a kid, he gets to know a French midwife in his town and helps her deliver babies. She teaches him about fashion. Inspired by the world of clothes, he lies about his age to get into the École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis and studies sculpture, stockpiling knowledge about the human form.

1957 - Azzedine moves to Paris to study couture. He works at Christian Dior for five days before being fired. He then goes to Guy Laroche for two seasons, while working as a housekeeper for the Marquise de Mazan to pay the bills.

1960 - Alaïa goes to work as housekeeper, nanny, and dressmaker to the Comtesse de Blegiers and her family and meets many of the women who will be his major clients. Oh, and in addition, he also clocks time at Thierry Mugler and Charles Jourdan. We suspect this period is when he developed his habit of sleeping four hours a night.

1980 - After running a couture business out of his apartment from the late seventies on, Alaïa presents his first ready-to-wear collection. A buyer for Bergdorf Goodman sees a woman wearing one of the coats on the street and stops her to ask “OMG, wheredidyougetthat?”—and picks up the line.

1984 - The French Ministry of Culture names Alaïa Best Designer of the Year. In a somewhat surprising move from a dude who refuses to do anything so splashy as, um, advertising, Azzedine has model Grace Jones carry him onto the stage.

1987 - Jacqueline Schnabel opens an Alaïa boutique in New York. Five years later, she is forced to close it because Alaïa’s unwillingness to adhere to the fashion calendar.

1992 - Azzedine stops holding runway shows. Over it.

1993 - Alaïa—well, actually, one of his suits—makes a cameo in Madonna’s video for “Bad Girl.” (Yes, that link is so you can now go watch it and see. You know you want to.)

1995 - Possibly our favorite teen queen ever, Cher Horowitz, gets mugged in an Alaïa dress in Clueless. At this point, the man who made it has largely retreated from the limelight, mourning the death of his sister and working mostly for private clients. But as Cher reminds us, he’s still “a totally important designer.”

2000 - Alaïa does his first runway show in eight years. He also signs a deal for financial backing with the Prada Group. They give him expansive creative license. “The contract doesn’t say anything about seasons,” he tells The New York Times gleefully.

2007 - Alaïa buys his company back from Prada, with the exception of the accessories line. Luxury company Richemont then purchases one hundred percent of the brand. Alaïa goes right on making clothes—it’s what you might call a seamless transition (wah wah wah).

2011 - Just for kicks, Alaïa does his first runway show since 2003, at the end of the Paris couture shows. Forty people stay behind for lunch. Azzedine brings out the food to his guests himself.


photo via The New York Times



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