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August 27 2014

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The Past Is Present: Azzedine Alaïa and Carla Sozzani on His New Store, His Forthcoming Fashion Foundation, And Their Decades-Long Friendship

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Azzedine Alaia and Carla Sozzani

They say that behind every great man is a woman. In Azzedine Alaïa’s case, that woman is 10 Corso Como’s Carla Sozzani—the designer’s friend since 1979, and business adviser since 1999. Sozzani joined Alaïa for the opening of his striking new three-story Paris boutique this weekend. Set in an eighteenth-century maison on Rue de Marignan in the eighth arrondissement, the shop is nothing less than we’d expect from Alaïa: clean and minimal, with paintings by Christoph von Weyhe and luxe decor by the likes of Charlotte Perriand, Angelo Mangiarotti, Marc Newson, and Pierre Paulin. Indeed, bringing the shop to life was no small feat. But even though he’s had a busy Paris fashion week (in addition to the store opening, Alaïa is the subject of a retrospective at the Musée Galliera, which opened on September 28), Alaïa shows no signs of slowing. Instead, he’s looking to the future and planning to launch a foundation to help preserve and celebrate fashion history. Here, Sozzani and Alaïa speak to Style.com about their relationship, the designer’s expansive vintage collection, and the new boutique.

Can you tell us a bit about your relationship?

Carla Sozzani: For me, there are two Azzedines. There’s the one who’s my chosen family—we’ll be friends all our life. And then there is the artist, the master. I love them both, for different reasons.

Azzedine Alaïa: Carla was behind this boutique; it’s thanks to her. But putting fashion aside, she is a great friend and a rare woman.

How did you choose this space?

CS: Azzedine wants to make his home in the Marais a foundation and museum for his clothes, his work, and his collections. He has compiled a huge amount of Vionnet, Balenciaga, Margiela, Comme des Garçons, African art. He agreed to this space, which is really like a house, because there are no shop windows. There’s a garden. It lets him be free. Azzedine always says that the best thing France ever gave him was citizenship, so he’s always happy to give back.

Alaia store

How did you begin collecting?
A.A.: In the beginning, I never considered myself a collector. It’s just that when I discover something I like, I want to learn more about it. It just so happened that when Balenciaga closed [in 1968], I realized that, for fashion’s sake, I had to do something. Everything was being marked down and sold, people were leaving. And I thought it was just stupid that this heritage would disappear and be lost. That’s when I started making a selection of pieces in function of whom I like, and I still do. Always. I pick things from each of Rei [Kawakubo]‘s collections. I have Vionnet, Dior. But Rei stands apart.

How many pieces are in your collection?

A.A.: Lots, lots. I don’t even know. I buy things; people give me gifts. Gene Pressman once gave me a Charles James dress. It’s never been out of its box. It’s still all wrapped up. Just the idea of having protected it—I tell myself I’ve saved it from disappearing. Now what I need is time. If I were to stop working, I would never get bored, because I have lots to do in terms of [preserving] fashion history. That’s what I’m thinking about now. Before, people thought differently—fashion was considered ephemeral, they didn’t think about it. But now, today, it has to exist. And also it has to be present for women’s sake.

How do you think about your own designs in the context of fashion history? The curator Olivier Saillard says that you could be the son of Mme Grès…

A.A.: I think it’s because of a certain fashion culture, which is continuity. When you look back at the thirties or fifties, it’s all about how things evolve. So now you need to consider how you’re going to do something, with today’s materials, that is going to move fashion forward. But I have one obsession: It’s that ever since I began, in 1980, I never wanted there to be a difference between then and now. I want people to look [at my clothes] and have no idea of the date. My obsession is to make women beautiful. When you create with that in mind, things can’t go out of fashion. If you take a dress that once belonged to Marie Antoinette, you can’t call it “unfashionable.” A dress from early in Rei’s career is not “unfashionable”; it has presence, it’s a beautiful piece of work.

What are your plans for your foundation?

A.A.: We’re still working out the details. I want to create a foundation, like a maison, in my home in the Marais. I am going to leave everything there. I am only passing through. I’m not a proprietor of anything, even if I have homes and things. I look at those who came before me; we can only occupy a space. But you have to leave something behind. I’ll use the foundation to leave everything of mine, and I’ll open it up to young people—design, books, music. You’ll be able to see through each couturier what they represented in the history of fashion. That’s my new obsession.

What advice can you offer to young designers?

A.A.: I’m always telling young designers to take the time to surround themselves with women. I tell them, “You’re not designing fashion for women. You’re making sophisticated clothes. You’re making things for your imagination. That’s a different thing.” I think that when a woman feels truly alive, she’s beautiful, and what she’s wearing will make something happen. Even if she is shy, clothes should make her feel good. It’s important to make women feel confident, because I think they are more important than men. Look at the political world. [Those men] would not exist without a woman’s strength.

Is Carla your strength?
A.A.: She’s stronger than she knows. But Carla’s not behind me. She is right here, next to me. We are right on the same wavelength.

Photos: Francois Goize (portrait); Courtesy of Alaia (store)

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