PLEASURES OF THE FLESH It’s taken 35 years for fashion icon Azzedine Alaïa to launch his debut fragrance, which draws on his famously body-conscious aesthetic. Is it worth the wait? Eugenie Kelly heads to Paris to find out.
Despite the legendary dinner parties that have gone down in French fashion history at the address printed on my invitation, my Parisian taxi driver can’t pinpoint which entrance belongs to Azzedine Alaïa’s 17thcentury Marais headquarters. Unlike at a Chanel, Dior or Balenciaga boutique, there’s no suited-up security manning the door, no serious signage – not even window displays. Just an unassuming stone façade with an impressive red door the size of a small truck and a buzzer to announce clients. We cast our glance upwards, and there – above said door – is the only indicator we’re at the right place. The name etched ever so subtly in stone: ALAÏA.
The 75-year-old Tunisian-born designer has been part of fashion mythology ever since his body-con dresses defined the aesthetic of Paris in the ’80s, yet he remains an enigma. As Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) whines in the 1995 classic Clueless when a mugger commands her to lie on the pavement in her dress: “This is an Alaïa ... It’s, like, a totally important designer.”
Tonight marks the launch of Alaïa Paris, his long-awaited fragrance debut, with an intimate dinner party at his home: a converted warehouse, the heart of which is one of his two standalone boutiques. (The second is his flagship store located in an 18th-century mansion just off Avenue Montaigne, replete with Marc Newson furnishings; a jaw-dropping Kris Ruhs chandelier of brushed steel garlands descending through four storeys of marble staircase; and a lush vertical garden by Patrick Blanc.) Upstairs is his design atelier and workshop; a vast apartment; and his hotel, 3 Rooms, selfcontained suites that are a study in understated perfection.
At the back of the cathedral-like ground-floor store, where his coveted stretch-knit dresses hang on Julian Schnabeldesigned racks, is an industrial-style kitchen. It’s here the diminutive (he’s just over 157cm tall) and notoriously shy designer, wearing his trademark black Mao suit, sits at the head of a long communal table, protectively hemmed in by a French magazine fashion director and the Spanish actor and Pedro Almodóvar muse Rossy de Palma. A few chairs away sits Carla Sozzani, his long-time friend and style consultant and the founder of retailer 10 Corso Como.
His guests – a small gathering of international beauty journalists – wait patiently for him to work the room, but he’s in no rush. This perfume has taken more than two years to reach fruition: what’s another hour? Clearly, this is a man who marches to the beat of his own drum.
Between courses, he pulls up a chair next to me and seems ready to talk. To be brash, a fragrance can prove a fashion designer’s cash cow, so why launch a perfume now? “In life, you mustn’t rush things,” he says, shaking his head. “I only rush things that I can do well straight away. If I do a collection that’s not great – Okay, I get over it and do another one. But with perfume ... no. You mustn’t get a perfume
Azzedine Alaïa with a model in one of his designs, photographed
by Patrick Demarchelier