Azzedine Alaia is as famous for his perfectionism and knowing disdain for the fashion game as he is for his sexy hourglass creations, which turned Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour into supermodels and won him the nickname “The King of Cling.” The Tunisian-born designer who’s called Paris home since the late ’50s works with a dedication that few, if any, of his contemporaries can match; cutting, draping and sewing all of his samples himself—literally sculpting with fabric. But he’s working only on his own clock. He abandoned the biannual show schedule in the early ’90s, choosing to present his collections when they’re ready, not when fashion’s forces dictate.
Now, Alaia’s finally able to expand the deluxe, made-to-meaure offerings that he was once limited to producing for an elite group of clients. He’s hired fifteen members of Yves Saunt Laurent’s couture house, which was closed after that fashion icon retired last year. With the help of his partner of two years, the Prada Group, he’s also increased production of his ready-to-wear and shoes, and launched a line of sunglasses.
Not surprisingly, Alaia made no apologies for the fifteen minutes it took to wrap Gisele Bundchen in an elaborate, yet fluid gown. And when the supermodel examined her reflection—yards and yards of weightless silk chiffon spiraling around her unbelievable frame—she abandoned any thought of complaining. “He irons. He’s on his knees hemming. His clothes fit like a glove,” Bundchen says. “I fell in love with Azzedine. I’d fly across the world to do his show.” Even a master like Alaia couldn’t ask for a more ringing endorsement than that. —Nicole Phelps.
The Artist and His Model, Elle, January 2003. Photographer: Gilles Bensimon / Model: Gisele Bundchen / Stylist: Charlyne Cerf de Dudzeele.