Azzedine Alaïa passed away today in Paris of a heart attack. The New York Times reports he was 82, but other sources list his age as 77 at the time of his death.
Alaïa was born in Tunis, Tunisia. As a child, he showed an interest in art and design. A young Alaïa worked for a midwife who nurtured his artistic inclination and registered him at the School of Fine Arts in Tunis. After a couple dress-shop jobs in Tunis, he ended up in Paris working for Christian Dior in 1957. There he lived with one Comtesse Nicole de Blegiers, paying rent by making her clothes and babysitting her kids. His gift of couture became known around the wealthy Parisian set, among them a couple Rothschilds sisters and Greta Garbo, who remained clients of his for years.
He eventually opened his own atelier in 1979. As his renown grew, he was eventually dubbed the “King of Cling” by Vogue’s Hamish Bowles. Alaïa gowns are sculptures of svelte couture, of no nonsense exquisite designs. The streamlined sophistication made him a favorite of Madonna, Victoria Beckham and Michelle Obama, as well as more current divas like Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Alaïa is responsible for some of Grace Jones’ signature looks such as the hood dress. Standing 5 foot 3 inches, his supermodel friends towered over him. When a 16-year-old Naomi Campbell began modeling in Paris, she would stay with Alaïa who would take care of her by curbing her partying late at night clubs.
As trends changed, Alaïa never followed them, choosing to focus on clothes instead of “luxury conglomerates,” and had choice words for other overseers of the fashion biz. His vision and work ethic endured, having shown a collection this past July to rave reviews.
Tributes to Alaïa are pouring in, many featuring a clip of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless.
Alaïa is survived by his partner, the painter Christoph von Weyhe; and nieces and nephews.