“CREATING A PERFUME IS TO CONFIDE IN A WOMAN,
TO STEAL HER THOUGHTS OF TOMORROW
AND RUN AWAY WITH HER BEFORE SHE EVER LOOKS BACK…
CREATING A PERFUME IS ALSO KNOWING THAT, AT THAT PRECISE INSTANT,
THE WORDS I USE TO RECOUNT MY SECRET ALREADY NO LONGER BELONG TO ME…
MY PERFUME IS NOT REASONABLE – IT MAKES TIME LIE.
I DREAMED OF IT LIKE AN ARCHEOLOGIST DREAMS OF SCULPTURES FROM ANTIQUITY
LYING AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA FOR MILLENNIA,
SCULPTURES OF PERFECT BODIES, MATCHED ONLY BY
THE WOMEN OF TODAY –
AN IDEAL AND TIMELESS BEAUTY.
MY PERFUME COMES FROM FAR AWAY, IT IS A PERFUME FROM THE SOURCE…
IT DOES NOT REFLECT ANY PARTICULAR ERA,
BUT EMOTIONS FROM EVERY ERA. IT DOES NOT COME FROM ANY COUNTRY,
BECAUSE IT HAS TRAVELED THROUGH THEM ALL. IT DOES NOT RESONATE WITH ANY
ONE SEASON, BECAUSE IT LIVES IN ALL SEASONS.
MY PERFUME SPRINGS FROM THE UNION OF ALL MY PRESENT MOMENTS,
FROM A TIME THAT I COULD NOT MYSELF IDENTIFY, EXPRESSED ONLY IN THE FEELINGS
THAT ITS CREATION REVEALED TO ME.
MY PERFUME ACCOMPANIES TIME,
IT HAS THE INSOLENCE OF AN ETERNAL PRESENT.
AT THE SAME TIME A FRAGRANCE FOR DAY AND FOR NIGHT,
MY PERFUME IS THE COMPLEX ARCHITECTURE OF MY MOST PARADOXICAL SENSATIONS,
THOSE THAT HAVE BROUGHT ME THE MOST BEAUTIFUL RENCONTRES OF MY LIFE."
OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES, AT THE CROSSROADS OF THE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURIES,
AZZEDINE ALAÏA, INEVITABLY, PEACEFULLY, ESTABLISHED HIMSELF IN THE FASHION WORLD AS THE EPITOME OF A
CREATOR PAR EXCELLENCE. BUT HOW TO ADDRESS HIS UNIVERSE, HOW TO CONNECT
WITH HIS MYTH WITHOUT FIRST ACKNOWLEDGING THE VOICE OF CHARLES BAUDELAIRE?
“I am Beauty itself, and therefore I demand
That for the love of me you’d love only Beauty”
In his time, Baudelaire vividly glorified woman in the language of pure seduction.
Alaia, proclaiming Beauty as absolute, becomes for us
the revealing agent of the modern woman. We were first mesmerized by
a line of clothes that would never go out of fashion, with impeccable cut,
both classic and audacious: in his tight or twirling dresses, tailored suits,
laser-cut corsets, playing with zippers, leathers, jerseys, and muslins,
he expressed his talent with a master’s virtuosity through a gripping contrast
between architectural precision and voluptuous refinement.
Emphasizing the bust, the size, the hips, Alaïa redrew the female body,
magnifying it as if it were an antique sculpture – insisting on the sensuality of curves,
revealing the power of shapes, giving the woman a new status,
that of a goddess of modern times.
We then associated his style with absolute beauty: the figures of the models
he discovered remain indelibly printed in our minds. Who does not remember
Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Linda Evangelista, Veronica Webb,
Linda Spierings, Farida Khelfa or Iman in sculptural poses next to this creator,
a mischievous goblin, dressed in black, nestled against them or laying by their side?
For them, he became confidente or guru, treating them with respect, recognition –
a consideration born from admiration or gratitude. Through these top-models,
we were able to coin the epitome of the Alaïa-woman: active, trendy,
feminine, exultant, self-confident, playing with her body and clothes
as if with supreme tools.
If he is today praised on all sides, including accolades from his peers – a rare occurrence
in such a field – and if the markets, one by one, welcome him in a globalized
world, Alaïa remains a discrete, mysterious, almost inaccessible figure.
Indeed, the secrets of his success are hidden in a profoundly singular and
atypical trajectory. For Alaïa has never fit the mould or adhered to the rhythms
and rendez-vous of the world of haute couture. He has followed a gruelling trajectory,
alone, without compromise, which starts with a very unique relationship to time.
“Some would claim that I’m at odds with chronology.
In fact, I can start a dress or a jacket some time and have the feeling
that I’ll finish it in ten years’ time,
against the seasons’ rhythm.”
If Alaïa is fundamentally atypical, it is also because of his unusual
work relations. In the space that he selected behind the Paris City Hall – an immense
warehouse built in the 19th century – he works as an obsessive craftsman
in a sort of blast furnace operating night and day.
“What interests me above all in couture is the cut.
In sculpture class at the École des Beaux-Arts, they taught us to walk
around the model. You must always walk around the model.”
With his thimble, his pins and his ruler, he perfects the cut
and walks around the model, in celebration of Beauty. For years now,
this industrial space, illuminated by a majestic glass roof, is where all Alaia fashion shows take place-
combining atelier, private house, boutique, hotel and even art gallery.
There, one hundred closely acquainted people –assistants, colleagues, friends,
coworkers and clients– bustle good humouredly around Azzedine Alaïa. There, in a blissful
hybridization, as a true tower of Babel uniting people of all ages
and cultures, functions full-time as a curious institution based on a perfectly
democratic model, united by some essential principles, such as integrity and excellence.
Nevertheless, one cannot grasp the profound aspect of this singular space
without appreciating the importance of his central room, the kitchen,
true heart of his community where, as a daily ritual,
Monsieur Alaïa’s team gathers for lunch around a large rectangular
glass table surrounded by white chairs designed by Mallet-Stevens,
in the ground-floor kitchen of his house-factory.
Monsieur Alaïa seats the guest of honour at the head of the table, at his right,
and introduces each of the others, announcing their function.
Lunches are brief and everyone leaves quickly to resume their daily tasks.
As for dinners, it is a completely different story. Alaïa is far from being
an isolated omnipotent creator in his ivory tower. He is above all a man of contacts
and exchanges, whose entire career could be defined by the long list of his personal
encounters. He admires more than everything contemporary creators – writers, painters,
designers, musicians, dancers, producers, academics and scientists – thriving in their company,
their energy ; letting himself slip into their worlds.
Thus the kitchen-space of Azzedine Alaïa progressively became,
in the heart of the French capital, a space of magical encounters. What one could call
‘un salon’, in the highest French tradition.