Friday, July 8, 2011

Dress Coats, Innovative Knitwear, Croc Leather: Azzedine Alaia's Fall 2011 Collection Doesn't Disappoint

Azzedine Alaia inspires devotion like no other designer in fashion, so it was small wonder that his first show in eight years should end with applause that went on and on… and on, until French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand scooted backstage and coaxed the famously shy designer out to face a rapturous standing ovation. And that was the only logical climax to a presentation that was punctuated throughout by involuntary squeaks of appreciation from a front row that included Donatella Versace, Sofia Coppola, and Kanye West.

Alaia is known to be an acolyte of Madame Grès. He loaned dresses to the exhibition of her work running right now at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris. The Grès show has become a cause to celebrate, not just because of the sublime workmanship, but because the clothes themselves are startlingly contemporary. They're a testament to the "sui generis" power of Grès' vision, which yields an almost eerie timelessness. And it was that same quality that came across on Alaia's catwalk yesterday. Credit his absolute control of his craft. His focus was as sharp as the laser cutting that created the latticed velvet on his eveningwear. It felt like the designer was exploring all the possibilities of a tightly edited handful of ideas, starting with one that was newest for longtime fans: the coat-dress. Cut from the substantial felted wool that is an Alaia favorite, it had a rounded, slightly dropped shoulder, a bell-shaped flaring from inverted pleats on the hips and a padded texture to the skirt. It was a standout in the leaf green that is also an Alaia  fave.

The sheen of croc-stamped leather felt like something new, too. Alaia used it in a trim green coat-dress, in a zipped sleeveless top, and matching pencil skirt in aubergine. The zips that defined the hips of the skirt were the designer's latest take on the body-consciousness that has defined his career.

And that brings us to the miracle of his knitwear. Alaia has worked with the same mill in Italy for the last 30 years. Such an enduring relationship has allowed technical feats like this collection's short fitted jackets, as well as evening dresses that hugged the body to the hips, dipped to cup the bum, then erupted into flamencolike tiers of ruffles. All in knit! Sober yet erotically charged, they were looks for proper grown-ups—of any age. "You just don't see clothes like that," one attendee was quoted as exclaiming at the show's end. "There's everyone else. Then there's Alaia."

Looks like Alaia's mantra continues to reign true, and these key words by Catherine Lardeur, the former editor and chief of French Marie Claire in the 1980s, who also helped to launch Jean-Paul Gaultier's career, stated in an interview to Crowd Magazine that say it all: "Fashion is dead. Designers nowadays do not create anything, they only make clothes so people and the press would talk about them. The real money for designers lie within perfumes and handbags. It is all about image. Alaia remains the king. He is smart enough to not only care about having people talk about him, but only when it's relevant. He only holds fashion shows when he has something to show,  and only on his own time frame."

Azzedine Alaia's Fall 2011 Collection:
(Prepare for an AMAZING experience)

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