Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Alaia: Noble, Joyous and Relevant

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Alaia: Noble, Joyous and Relevant

Article excerpt

In a highly anticipated exhibition, the designer's work is being displayed for the reopening of the City of Paris's official fashion museum.

"It is all those years of work -- and when I look at it, I see the continuity; there is no season that pushes another out of date," said Azzedine Alaia, standing beside one of a handful of dresses displayed in all their graphic, body-conscious glory in front of Matisse's "Nymph" murals.

But this display at the Musee de l'Art Moderne is only a taster of the 74 dresses on show across a verdant private park at the Palais Galliera, Paris's fashion museum, newly refurbished with oxblood walls and a restored mosaic floor, the better to show the wonders of the greatest modern couturier who never bore that name.

"Alaia," which is to open Saturday and end Jan. 26, is an exhibition as noble as it is joyous, with its elegant, impeccably cut dresses, the striking intervention of zippers snaking around the body curves and with the funky Africa outfits, as seen on a young Naomi Campbell. They are an echo of memory from the designer's childhood in Tunisia.

"Sometimes, when I am making a wedding dress, I think of those nuns, in their white habits with those wimple hats," says Mr. Alaia, 73, explaining the purity of tiny stitched eyelets on white cotton.

Olivier Saillard, the museum's director and curator of the exhibition, working in clusters and vistas, eschewed the idea of putting up images -- say of Grace Jones wearing a bias-cut, hooded, nude-colored dress that rippled over the diva's body. There also are no digital screens displaying the fashion shows that the so-called "king of cling" started in the 1980s, after his private couture business evolved.

Instead, there is the whammy of color: not just the 1997 scarlet dress, recently worn by Rihanna, standing majestically on its own in an alcove. There are also shades that the curator recognizes as "Alaia colors": a deep, faded purple, a dusty bronze or black, lighted in fluffy wool or gleaming as leather, perforated with silver eyelets.

As Mr. Saillard says, everything is so much earlier than seems credible -- like that metal and leather outfit made first in the late 1970s, rejected as too aggressive by the company that had commissioned it, then remade for one of Alaia's own collections in the early 1980s, well before Versace and so many others decided that skin was in. …

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