A per­fec­tion­ist who played by his own rules, Azze­dine Alaïa passed away in Novem­ber, leav­ing the in­dus­try in shock. Francesca Fearon looks at two ex­hi­bi­tions cel­e­brat­ing his life

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A per­fec­tion­ist who played by his own rules, Azze­dine Alaia passed away sud­denly in Novem­ber. We look at two ex­hi­bi­tions cel­e­brat­ing his life

There’s a hushed, rev­er­en­tial si­lence as Parisians slowly wan­der around the dis­plays of sculpted gowns, study­ing ev­ery stitch and de­tail as if in awe of the mastery. These 41 dresses present just a snap­shot of Azze­dine Alaïa’s work over 40 years, and are be­ing show­cased in a spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion at Alaïa’s ate­lier in Le Marais, the site of his last cou­ture show in July 2017. The ex­hi­bi­tion, which takes its ti­tle from one of Alaïa’s fa­mous quotes, “I am not a de­signer, I am a cou­turier”, is one of two this year de­voted to the Tu­nisian de­signer, who died un­ex­pect­edly of a heart at­tack last Novem­ber, leav­ing the in­dus­try in shock. The sec­ond ex­hi­bi­tion, Azze­dine Alaïa: The Cou­turier, will open at Lon­don’s De­sign Mu­seum in May. This ex­hibit had al­ready been in the works when the leg­endary de­signer passed away, so he was heav­ily in­volved in its plan­ning. It will ex­plore the ca­reer and creative process of this no­to­ri­ous per­fec­tion­ist, who cut all his own pat­terns and was known to work on a sin­gle gar­ment for years be­fore shar­ing it with the world. It will show­case more than 60 ex­am­ples of Alaïa’s works un­til Oc­to­ber 7. The mu­seum has de­cided to not change its ap­proach, or re­place it with a ret­ro­spec­tive, but in­stead, to stay true to the de­signer’s vi­sion for the ex­hi­bi­tion, while adding some more bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails and pho­tog­ra­phy el­e­ments. “We want to give a sense of how a man like Azze­dine Alaïa cre­ates, be­cause he stands apart from many fash­ion de­sign­ers to­day,” ex­plains Alice Black, codi­rec­tor of the De­sign Mu­seum. Alaïa stands as one of the most in­flu­en­tial de­sign­ers of his gen­er­a­tion, famed for in­tro­duc­ing the body-con­scious sil­hou­ette. The Paris ex­hi­bi­tion opened dur­ing haute cou­ture week in Jan­uary, giv­ing the de­signer a pres­ence dur­ing the col­lec­tions, and will run un­til June 10. It has been cu­rated by Olivier Sail­lard, the for­mer di­rec­tor of Paris’s Palais Gal­liera, who worked closely with Alaïa to pro­duce the first ret­ro­spec­tive of his work in 2013 at the Gal­liera, so is fa­mil­iar with the de­signer’s dresses. Tightly edited to black or white (with the ex­cep­tion of one red gown), each iconic dress is set out on in­di­vid­ual, pearly-hued podi­ums lin­ing the ate­lier – Sail­lard says he wanted the ex­hi­bi­tion to look like a string of pearls. De­void of any cap­tions, you wan­der around the space with a leaflet fea­tur­ing each dress and sim­ply the year and sea­son of the de­sign, noth­ing more.

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