Good things come to those who wait. The lateness of Azzedine Alaïa’s autumn/winter 2016 show was pointedly remarked upon by some: if you know your fashion calendar, Alaïa showed a good three weeks after the season ended for everyone else. But Alaïa doesn’t care. And so, as the first true hints of spring began to appear (soaring temperatures, sunlight blazing through the nineteenth century wrought iron of the showroom space, also used to house exhibitions. They’re not of clothes, but rather of artists whose work or interests intersect with those of Alaïa, often only vaguely. Last year, for instance, the American artist Kris Ruhs transformed the space into a Hanging Garden of brass and porcelain blooms. The affect was extraordinary.
I like to think of Azzedine Alaïa’s clothes in that context, as part of succession of exhibitions by specialist practitioners united by their excellence in their respective fields. The most recent show was a joint exhibition devoted to the work of the architects Jean Nouvel and Claude Parent – the latter began his career as a fashion illustrator, so there was a vague intersection there. But more prominent than any facile fashion connection is the fact that Alaïa is relentlessly curious, which you sense through his designs. He’s interested in art and in architecture, perhaps less so in fashion today. Hence his consciously showing outside of the industry circus, distancing himself from the humdrum melee. Nicolas Ghesquiere, the similarly single-minded artistic director of Louis Vuitton, attended one of Alaïa’s two shows yesterday. So did Adrian Joffe (he was shortly on a plane to Japan), the husband of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, whose business resolutely refuses to follow fashion’s prescribed path, and whose work also challenges the borders between the various disciplines of art, clothing and design.
So, Alaïa’s winter 2016 offering was well worth waiting for – particularly because, in a career of excellence, this stood out as especially so. Alaïa’s excellence was, as always, embedded in superlative technique: knits of intricate jacquard, tense around the body, fit and flare keyed into the dynamics of the fabric itself, rather than shape, so a rib became pleats, perhaps caged into a honeycomb to grip the body. That dichotomy of cling and swing was explored further in silhouette, in capacious coats swaggering wide in back with high-placed buckled martingales emphasising the movement. They cocooned snug dresses, the hemlines pulled down low and worn with flat boots. Alaïa wonderful things with lace, scissoring it around the body, lining it in Alaïa signature fleshy flushed pink so you thought you saw everything but in fact were confronted with the severe piety of a nun. The elements are standard clothing forms, but the mix of them here was electrifying. Energising. New. How long is it since you said that with any real conviction?
There was much here that felt new, like the micro-sequins embedded in waffle-knit dresses, or others with microscopic slashes opening windows onto the body beneath undulating ruffles. Alaïa’s relentless inventiveness with knit – near four decades of experimentation, with no sign of abating – can be single-handedly credited with transforming the fashion industry, our sense of fit, our relationship between our bodies and clothes. You name it. The breath extracted from this one medium, in this one show, puts other designers’ entire careers to shame. So that’s why we wait, for Alaïa. We wait for the good. We get the great.
Text by Alexander Fury
Photographs courtesy of Azzedine Alaïa