Chez Alaïa: Low Fuss, High Impact-------
Only when Paris fashion week winds down—and the exodus of editors, photo bloggers, and pretty young things is nearly complete—does an e-mail arrive from the Azzedine Alaïa press office informing those who remain about a series of intimate presentations to showcase the latest collection. Inviting a small number of media and friends (spotted: Jean-Paul Goude) to the showroom while buyers place their orders has become the unofficial protocol chez Alaïa, and it works because you can touch and feel the collection with the same unhurried focus as, say, Ken Downing from Neiman Marcus, who seemed noticeably impressed with some of the new techniques Monsieur Alaïa introduced for Fall.
This is the first collection to follow the Alaïa retrospective that recently ran its course at the reopened Palais Galliera in Paris. Was there a correlation between that survey of his career and the openwork polka-dot dresses or double-face gabardine coats? Hard to say without word from the designer. But one look at the construction of a stunning cape-backed bolero, or some of the knit patterning, and you sensed a certain engineering imperative—that he set out to push himself a bit further this time around.
To be sure, nothing was radically different. Mainly, Alaïa stuck to subtle silhouette updates, offering a roomier V-neck jumper and adding a rectangular fringe—occasionally knotted—to the edge of his skirts to give them a fresh swish in place of his typical flounce. A technique he dubbed “Religieuse” combined larger organ pleats with interior accordion pleats, and on a floor-grazing skirt or a truncated cape, the result was something akin to seeing Sister in the corner office. Indeed, with the recurrence of all those starched white poplin shirts, Alaïa further confirmed how his view of femininity has shifted since his heyday of cleavage-bearing necklines.
However, that’s not to suggest he’s repressed the sexiness: Witness the jagged booties, cut like leather spikes, and bicolor biker gloves. Body-skimming dresses benefitted from body-contouring jacquards so that waists seemed corseted by knit striping. If anything, he simply determined that the cues need not be as obvious. There were a few other dramatic—or better, dynamic—additions this season, namely the calf-hair pieces that had been striped with a slick lacquer and a grouping of wool suits in champagne and teal covered in a tonal coiled pattern. Metallic yarn reappeared this season, this time as a pixelated pattern and as a larger amorphous one. He also revisited the dimensional lantern-effect knits, in one example applying the dimensional technique around the bust of a cropped jacket that closed the show. The workmanship on these final looks was so deceivingly complex that it qualified as couture.
And that’s the thing about Alaïa, the couturier-architect whose clothes are so seriously and rigorously crafted that he can’t help but be diametrically less serious about everything else. Regulars to these intimate rendezvous would not have been surprised by the nostalgic, bossa-nova-style hits “Mambo Italiano” and “Quando Quando Quando” that accompanied the show. Swishy music for studied fashion: Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?