Alaïa was born in Tunisia on 26 February 1935. His parents were wheat farmers, but his glamorous twin sister, Hafida, inspired his love for fashion and haute couture. A French friend of his mother, Mrs. Pineau, fed Alaïa’s instinctive creativity with copies of Vogue magazine. He lied about his age to get himself into the Tunis Institute of Fine Arts, where he gained valuable insights into the human form and began studying sculpture. He worked as a dressmaker with his sister to pay for his school supplies.
Alaïa came to Paris at the age of 18, and spent only 5 days at Christian Dior, before being fired. He worked at Guy Laroche, Thierry Mugler, and was fiercely independent not only when it came to designing, but also how he ran his business. When he launched his own atelier, he did so in his own apartment, and from this tiny space, he will go on to create groundbreaking collections that will gain critical appraise, and dress some of the most well-known celebrities. In 2000, he went into a business agreement with Prada, and he said the motivation was not a financial one, but to secure his archive. Alaia’s personal collection – one of the most comprehensive in the world – includes examples of couturiers such as Charles James and Madeleine Vionnet. In fact, he is known to buy dresses from renowned designers and spend hours studying them.
Key Success Factors:
Alaia was known for a silhouette that closely followed the woman’s body, and he was a complete contradiction in the mainstream fashion industry. He refused to conform to industry standards, foregoing seasonal collections and presented his collections outside of the fashion calendar. He did not court the fashion press and yet received praise and acclaim from the industry insiders. He had a cult-like following and a loyal clientele who appreciated his body-conscious style that reflected a powerful, fearless and unashamedly sexy woman.
Grace Jones and Azzedine Alaïa in 1985. Photo source: Rex Features