Word is out on Seventh Avenue. Come spring, le dernier cri in fashion will be, of all fitting things, clothes that cling to women’s curves. In spite of competition from such homegrown talents as Bill Blass and Calvin Klein, no one is turning out sexier or tighter numbers than Paris’ avant-garde designer, Tunisian-born Azzedine Alaïa. “I don’t cut clothes for a board,” says Alaïa. “The body of a woman is sublime. I follow it.”
Growing numbers of American women are showing their approval by wriggling into his skintight jersey and leather outfits, some with trademark zippers and seams that snake around the body. “Anybody can do fitted clothes,” says Dawn Mello, executive VP of Bergdorf Goodman. “You plaster them on the body. But Azzedine’s are magical.”
Alaïa (pronounced A-lie-ya), who worked in the couture house of Guy Laroche, has devoted his career to making clothes for glamorous, self-assured women. As a boy, he spent Saturday nights at the cinema, and today he still swoons over Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo films. He also studied sculpture at the local Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Tunis and made dresses on the side. A particular favorite was one he stitched together for a classmate to wear to their prom. “It was so tight,” he recalls gleefully, “that she couldn’t even walk.” Today the petit (5’2″) designer gives all his clothes a comfort test by wearing them around his studio himself.
Alaïa may be a new name on this side of the Atlantic, but chic trend setters, most recently Paloma Picasso and Jerry Hall, have been flocking to his Left Bank atelier for more than 15 years. There they are greeted by the 40ish designer in his Chinese jacket and gymnast shoes, cradling his Yorkshire terrier, Patapouf, in his arms. He is unfazed by success. “Success?” he has said. “I don’t spit on it. And the dog loves it.”