Azzedine Alaia

B. 1940

Birthplace: Tunis, Tunisia

Awards: Designer of the Year, French Ministry of Culture, 1985

To those familiar with his work, it is not surprising that Azzedine Ala'ia originally planned to become a sculptor. His garments are known for their sensuous tension, their voluptuization of the female form, and their accentuation of womanly curves. In other words, the "King of Cling," as he is called, is renowned for creating the sexiest clothing in the world.

Raised by his grandmother, Ala'ia attended L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Tunis where he served as a dressmaker's assistant before arriving in Paris in 1957, planning to work for Christian Dior. His time with Dior was quite brief, however, and he set out on his own. After taking apart old garments designed by Madeleine Vionnet and Cristobal Balenciaga, he studied their construction closely and then put them back together. He worked part of the time for both Guy Laroche and Thierry Mugler, but he supported himself primarily by functioning as an au pair for several stylish young families. In addition to his housekeeping duties, he created custom clothing for his chic employers.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the diminutive designer continued to teach himself the techniques of Parisian haute couture and became a master tailor. His clothes are actually quite complex, featuring not only beautiful draping but also combinations of many individual pieces, all cut by him and fitted right on the body. He is satisfied only by perfection—thus, the shape and fit of each garment can be compared to an architectural structure; every piece serves as part of a well-built framework, each one supporting the other, all of them held together by corset-like seaming which also functions as stylish detail.

Ala'ia began designing at a moment when women were becoming more and more interested in exercise, fitness, and showing off the results of their hard work. Tina Turner, Raquel Welch, and Paloma Picasso were among those who visited the apartment out of which Ala'ia worked, eager to order his body-hugging knits. In 1980 he introduced his ready-to-wear line, featuring stretchy dresses, body suits, and bicycle shorts, all of which ultimately defined the decade—his use of Lycra and other elasticized fabrics was revolutionary, paving the way for fashion's ongoing glorification of the female shape. See also: Christian Dior; Thierry Mugler.

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