How Azzedine Alaïa changed the way we see women's bodies
The king is dead; long live the king. Azzedine Alaïa’s heart failed last November, but his presence will be more keenly felt in Britain this year than ever before. A major exhibition opens at the Design Museum in May, with his first London boutique coming to New Bond Street before that. After the outpouring of emotion on his death – from Naomi Campbell, who lived with him as a teenage model and always called him Papa; from the Parisian great-and-good who ate couscous at his table; from the clients who worshipped how he made them look – 2018 will be the year when Alaïa is recognised not just as the man who changed what models wore, but as the man who changed what we all wore.
“For me, fashion is the body,” Alaïa said in 1982. The rest of us took a little while to catch up, but we certainly got there in the end. Since the mid-80s, the skin and curve and flesh and muscle of women’s bodies have been the beating heart of how we want to look, with the role of fabric being to enhance that. That was how Alaïa saw it from the start. “I make clothes, women make fashion,” he would say, or: “I am not a designer, I am a couturier.” What he was saying, every time, was that it was the body that mattered most.