Azzedine Alaïa 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.
Alaïa 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 célèbre, 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 Alaïa's catwalk today. 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 Alaïa 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 Alaïa (and Grès) fave.
The sheen of croc-stamped leather felt like something new, too. Alaïa 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. Alaïa 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 limned 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 loyal customer rhapsodized at show's end. "There's everyone else. Then there's Alaïa."