A Historical Look at Azzedine Alaïa’s Legendary Studio

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From world-famous ateliers to designer hotspots, Historical Interiors is your weekly column for iconic decor, rare residential imagery, and cultural fashion landmarks.

When news of Azzedine Alaïa’s death broke last year, it sent the fashion world into unimaginable sorrow. He was the King of Cling, the last true couturier, the maker of the dress that had a mortified Cher Horowitz utter the famous line when she was held at gunpoint in Clueless: “You don’t understand, this is an Alaïa!” Out poured the heartfelt sentiments, the beautifully penned obituaries, and the tributes that spotlighted his greatest works—but no memory of Alaïa were complete without mention of his atelier. Because while his legacy lives on with his masterpieces immortalized in archives and exhibits, the Tunisian designer is remembered for his famous meals that brought people together.

“For Alaïa, fashion was about family—and he was the grand-père, famously cooking dinner each night for his dear friends in the kitchen of his atelier,” Carine recalled. “He never took a seat at the table, he would just circle it, checking that everyone’s plates and glasses were not empty. He was an amazing storyteller with a deep memory and a fantastic sense of humor, but he would never speak of himself.”

Situated on Rue de la Verrerie in Paris’ Le Marais, Alaïa’s studio was housed in a late 19th-century building—a former BHV department store warehouse—that’s so simple and nondescript, it’d be easy to overlook it entirely if it weren’t for his name “Alaïa” carved in stone. His atelier lived above his store on the ground floor and below his private residence. And it was here, from his large kitchen in his studio, that he prepared his renowned family-style lunches and dinners, rounding up close friends, clients, editors, and his loyal staff (sometimes with as many as 30 people that ranged from supermodels to politicians) to sit around a glass-topped table for a meal that was not only intellectually stimulating, but also incredibly intimate. An invitation to dine with Alaïa was a privilege. „It’s important to get away from work, and sit together as equals over a meal,” he once said.

The late dinners, especially, would inevitably turn into parties. „Some of my most memorable experiences in Paris happen during dinner parties at Azzedine Alaïa’s house,“ Bruce Weber recounted, name-checking Grace Jones (who brought her mother and son), Anouk Aimée, Bettina Graziana as party guests he would talk to late in the night. „Before he stays up all night sewing, Azzedine will cook for his friends. It’s always a wild affair.“

The atelier itself was always cluttered. As one fashion critic put it, it “basically looked like a cyclone had come through. There was stuff everywhere—racks of clothes, piles of boxes against the walls, rolls of fabric, things spread across tables and more jammed under them.” A TV sat next to his scrap-covered workspace that he’d leave on while he worked. And nearby was a mirror where Alaïa would first fit his designs on a house model.

A perfectionist, the diminutive designer was meticulous about his work, with at times, painstakingly pinning fabric directly onto the body to achieve his iconic curve-hugging designs. Longtime friend Naomi Campbell was one super who sat for him, who had been on the receiving end of his scrupulous eye since she was 16. “Papa,” is what she used to call him.

So fastidious was he about his craft that he famously refused to adhere to the fashion week calendar, showing his designs only when they were ready and not when the schedule dictated it. “I live with the climate. I am like fruit. When I’m ready, I’m ready,” he said. “There are no rules, it’s a way of life.”

So when Alaïa presented his final fashion show last July—his first couture collection in six years—it was fitting that he staged it in the enormous, airy show space in his atelier, the birthplace of all his ideas. Set under the archways of intricate ironwork, the Fall 2017 couture collection featured 68 looks that included plush shearling coats, pleated skirts made from leather, sculptural gowns that played up different textures, and beautifully knit dresses featuring diamond motifs. Campbell, of course, opened and closed the show.

When Alaïa wasn’t using the space to show his ready-to-wear and couture collections, it was home to numerous exhibits, like photographer Richard Wentworth’s work in 2017, French author and artist Pierre Guyotat in 2016, and his own after his passing. And when Vivienne Westwood didn’t have a place to show one of her earlier collections in Paris, Alaïa was there to graciously lend her his atelier, which spoke of his character, his love for collaboration and art, and most importantly, his immense generosity.

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