Alaïa gathers momentum
One brand that appeared to be gathering momentum is the house of Alaïa, which profited from haute couture week in Paris to present its latest ideas, many mined very literally from the house's unique archives.
Presented on the third-floor of its swish modernist boutique on rue Marignan, in the Golden Triangle of Paris luxury shopping, the display included the fall/winter 2021 collection and the latest examples of Editions, a collection that proposes classic ideas by Azzedine Alaïa, one of fashion’s half-dozen most influential designers in the past half century.
Editions actually began shortly after the passing of Alaïa in 2017 at the age of 82. But has now flourished to include perfectly cut white shirts, the sort that Alaïa does better than anyone; snazzy perforated jersey coats; or big-collar and big-statement shearling jackets. All of them ooze the dramatic panache and bodycon chic that was at the heart of Alaïa, the son of Tunisian wheat farmers who came to Paris in 1957 and conquered the city very much on his own terms.
Editions also encompasses the intricately cut posh S&M uber-wide belts and corsets that Alaïa loved. And even several versions of a bag he produced two decades ago but then didn’t put on any runway.
Like many geniuses – which in fashion terms Azzedine Alaïa very much was - he could be complicated, very complicated. He refused to stage shows during any official Paris catwalk seasons, meaning American retailers had to make special transatlantic trips just to see his collections. Many, of course, did. He was that good; dressing the likes of Madonna, Carla Bruni, Grace Jones, Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé, Raquel Welch, Naomi Campbell and Nicki Minaj.
The house is now under the direction of CEO Myriam Serrano, an experienced exec who arrived in September 2019 from Chloé, another brand within the giant luxury empire Richemont, controlled by the wealthy South African Rupert family. It’s a Swiss-based prestige products conglomerate that also controls Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Dunhill, Montblanc and most recently financed the launch of AZ Factory, the brand spanking new house of Alber Elbaz.
Serrano has been busy building up the design team at Alaïa, developing new ideas in accessories, notably in eyewear, where Alaïa now has a license with Kering Eyewear. Though in conversation she is careful to stress how determined she is to stay close to the Alaïa DNA, evident in its remarkable archives.
The house still has its historic headquarters at 7 rue de Moussy, in the celebrated Paris district of the Marais, composed of a 19th-century atelier and even a neo-classical church. There one finds the designer’s foundation; his small hotel; an airy boutique and the giant fitting room where Azzedine would greet his most illustrious clients, at its center the brilliant plate painting by Julian Schnabel.
Moreover, few fashion foundations anywhere are as dynamic that of Alaïa, which is led by his great friend, the legendary Carla Sozzani, owner of the greatest concept boutique in Italy, Corso Como in Milan. Proposing brilliant concept shows featuring Azzedine’s ideas, though currently shuttered due to the pandemic.
So, we caught up with Serrano at the presentation to get a handle on her plans for a truly unique fashion house.
“The first thing that Johann Rupert (Richemont CEO) told me when I came on board was ‘to take your time,’ which is what every CEO in luxury and fashion wants to hear. He said I should focus on the values of the brand and traditions and what makes it different,” explained Serrano.
“We see growth via our boutiques and online; and of course in China. Alaïa only has six boutiques – three in Paris; one in London. We have nothing in New York and many other major cities,” she notes.
Serrano is keen to open Alaïa in NYC, where she has just hired two celebrity shoppers for top clients, and in China, where she is bringing on board a new commercial director this spring. She is careful to underline that Richemont has the financial means to invest in what is needed.
Above all she is determined to maintain Alaïa as a top-notch label, hence the idea of showing during haute couture this week.
“We’ve been reducing the number of wholesale accounts from 140 to about half that. Only keeping they very best and most prestigious accounts,” she added, like everyone in the showroom, wearing a mask.
Though her immediate attention is on expanding via the collection called Editions, which encapsulates Azzedine’s aesthetic.
“Each piece lists the exact year and the exact collection from which they were taken on their lapel. Some dating back to the 1990s,” she stresses, pointedly revealing the special dated labels inside.
Under Serrano, the house also just launched La Petite Boutique: carefully selected pieces, chosen by collector Anouschka, from previous Alaïa collections, available for insiders and friends and sold at rue de Moussy – from lambskin pencil skirts and ruby-red sweaters to embossed crocodile leather totes to precision-cut wool hussar jackets. This week the brand also sent out its latest playlist, suitably eclectic – ranging from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Patty Pravo’s 'I giardini di Kensington,' a great revamp of Lou Reed’s 'Take a Walk on the Wild Side.'
Serrano has also been quietly hiring new creative talent for handbags, sunglasses and the fashion studio.
“We are also looking at eventually hiring a proper creative director. Someone with special talent, who really respects what Alaïa did, and who can be discreet,” Serrano explained.
So, when could a new collection bearing the Alaïa etiquette be unveiled on a catwalk?
“Well, whatever happens, I think we will probably respect the house’s traditions, and show out of season – the Azzedine way,” she laughs.
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