Critics’ Picks

View of “Azzedine Alaïa,” 2013.


Azzedine Alaïa

Palais Galliera, City of Paris Museum of Fashion
10, rue Pierre 1er de Serbie
September 8–January 26

For Tunisian-born designer Azzedine Alaïa’s first Parisian retrospective, Musée Galliera director Olivier Saillard christened the museum’s newly renovated galleries with a strong yet subtle exhibition that reflects the return of the nearly 120-year-old institution’s once-campy interiors to their neoclassical roots. The nearly eighty pieces on view distill Alaïa’s oeuvre to a tight focus on his relentless interest in volume, form, and material, quietly highlighting the designer’s formal training as a sculptor at the École des Beaux-Arts without resorting to cloying fashion-as-art apologia. The minimal presentation—each bust form is custom-cut to the garment it supports, such that dresses are at once filled out and disembodied—elides the glamour of the celebrity individuals who once occupied the gowns. This brings the focus to an almost abstract vision of the body and its plays off the architecture of his clothes. Audible gasps can be heard from the odd visitor here and there upon being stricken with the drama of consumerist desire.

In person, it’s apparent how the designer’s signature ornaments—pin tucks, hammered metal eyelets, intricate laser cutting—are devices for reconciling form and material. Hems weighted with the eyelets allow chiffon fabric to drape but not flutter (girlishness is an anathema here). Lacelike leathers become more malleable without losing their rigidity. Bands of viscose stretched laterally across the length of a dress, oddly reminiscent of vertebrae, make visible the tautness of his work: both its literal second-skin nature and the strictness of design approaching syllogism-like neatness. Eschewing the fashion show calendar altogether, the forty decades of Alaïa’s work shown here reveals no defining trends, only an increasing interest in the refinement of technique, a kind of reverse neoclassicist ethos that lends soft flesh and airy fabric the smooth, uncanny weightiness of sculpture.