Azzedine Alaïa’s Return to the Runway

It has been nearly a week since Azzedine Alaïa’s collection closed out the Paris Couture shows and the fashion world is still buzzing about Mr. Alaïa’s breathtaking designs. During a show week that saw Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld delve into the depths of Coco’s mystic, Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci put on a couture clinic and Valentino’s Chiuri and Piccoli take viewers away into a timeless fairytale, it was Mr. Alaïa who rose above the rest with his first runway show in 8 years. While the notoriously shy and some would even say reclusive designer has been busy for these past eight years, creating a shoe line, perfecting his popular crackled patent leather coast and wonderful knit dresses, Mr. Alaïa’s collections had not taken a trip down the runway since 2003. Last week when that self imposed hiatus ended, the standing ovation did not stop until French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand pulled the reluctant designer from backstage to take one final bow.

The collection was everything Mr. Alaïa’s devotees have come to expect from him, extremely intricate and refined in its process yet sublimely simple and startlingly contemporary in appearance. In a couture season that seemed to feature almost exclusively collections that covered a wide range of styles and ideas Mr. Alaïa went in the opposite direction, exploring a handful of extremely developed ideas that he brought closer to perfection then most other designers would have thought possible. His newest concept, the coat-dress, wowed many with its bell shaped flaring created by inverted pleats on the hips, the ridges of which had been filled with natural-colored cord, left exposed and knotted at the end to help define a motif unlike anything seen on a runway before. Crocodile leather pencil skirts with exposed zippers shooting up the leg and around to the rear, Mongolian lamb trims, and brilliant ruffled knitwear that defied the eye’s ability to separate the lines of the dress from those of the wearer all spoke to Mr. Alaïa’s tireless effort to master each idea he works with.

The crowd, which included Donatella Versace, Sofia Coppola and Kanye West could not get enough. “You’re never tired of looking at it because it’s so perfect.” stylist Charlotte Stockdale told a correspondent for the New York Times fashion page. But perhaps the most appropriate sentiment came from a loyal Alaïa customer who was overheard and the end of the show, “There’s everyone else. Then there’s Alaïa.”

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