Alaïa: Ready-to-wear SS16
There is fashion, and then there is Azzedine Alaïa. I don’t just mean conceptually, but in calendar terms too. Alaïa habitually shows a few days after everyone else has shut up shop and after most of the international press have gone home. To me, it always seems in the grand mercurial traditional of the great Balenciaga, who showed his clothes to press a full month after everyone else. Alaïa’s dates vary – this time, for spring/summer 2016, four days. It’s been only one before. Occasionally it’s a week. Only Alaïa can say. He shows at his own pace, obeys no-one’s schedule but his own.
“I do not agree at all with the system of fashion today,” he said to me back in July. “There’s too much speed.” Not chez Alaïa there’s not.
Few designers could do that, buck against the conventions of fashion’s well-established time-lines; fewer still would even try. But Alaïa operates outside normal fashion confines. they’re different worlds. The world of Alaïa and the world of fashion frequently intersect, but it’s coincidental – on Alaïa’s part at least. Generally, Alaïa comes first and fashion follows. While waiting for the doors to open into the light-filled central atrium of his atelier on Rue de Moussy in the Marais, I was pawing through the rails of monochrome clothing punctuated with slashes of visceral red and nude, like flayed flesh. There was a leather coat, its seams serrated, its hem cuffed in three inches of fringe, which whispered of the African trend beating through some of the Paris collections this season. The same with Alaïa dresses fringed all over with tags of fabric, or snipped into flaps at the hem. They’re all from Alaïa’s last autumn/winter show. Strange, that.
Alaïa of course grew up in northern Africa, so his interpretation has authenticity, and soul, and is also more abstract. This season he again showed fringe, this time tufted out of semi-sheer knits, slightly structured, with a zig-zag weave pattern opaque against the body. They held a little away from the form as the models walked. A series of shirts, tightly wrapping the body, had ruffled sleeves in a transparent lace that would up resembling fur from far away. You could see the material standing away from the arms, although you couldn’t figure out how it was possible.
The colour palette was restrained, as usual: the monochrome, the red, a flash of metallic gold and silver, bands of leather edging and cinching silk-jersey draped dresses, worked into a jacquard that sat on the body like a reptile skin. The silhouette was focussed on a small torso, high-waisted, above a fluid skirt or wide trousers: sometimes the midriff sat bare. A series of shirts ruffled up like buttery mille-feuille pastry around the shoulders, each fabric undulation set wide and crisp and finger-deep. They were succulent. Shoes were flat sandals. It was all, at base, unspectacular. Which was possibly the most spectacular thing about it.
Alaïa strips everything back, to the fabric and the craft and the sense of hand. There was nothing flashy going on here, just plain honest clothes. You focused your attention of what was going on between them and the body, the high-rise trousers fitting just so, the jersey evening dresses tugged to blouse above their belt, the last look in cardinal red dropping a train from a severe boat-neck. And I was reminded, again, of Balenciaga (Monsieur, I mean, although their celebrated former designer Nicolas Ghesquiere was sat applauding Alaïa too), by Alaïa’s austerity, the economy in his use of fabric to achieve his exact intentions, his extrapolation on a theme, his abstraction from the body in long dresses and brief capes knitted into spongy frills like three-dimensional broiderie anglaise. Like Balenciaga, everything could be worn, and should be. And will be, judging by the buyers out in force.
In a season dominated by two-dimensional fashion – flat-looking clothes, flat-falling shows, inspirations that sat flat on the surface with no hidden depth – Alaïa was, and is, resoundingly obsessed by achieving the three-dimensional, pushing his technique further each season to achieve it. Even dresses that appeared unstructured sat proud of the body; fabrics bubbled into life. That was the main difference between this Alaïa show and everything else we saw this season.
Text by Alexander Fury
Photographs by Ilvio Gallo
Photograph from Issue 55, What’s New Pussycat – on newsstands now.