Balenciaga, Alaïa feature in perfectionist fashion exhibition in Paris

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Nicola Mira
Jan 28, 2020
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Lightweight gowns and architectural suits, fine lace and dramatic frills: the creations of two great couturiers, Spaniard Cristobal Balenciaga and French-Tunisian Azzedine Alaïa, interact with each other in a Parisian exhibition, telling a tale of perfectionist fashion, an art that is gradually disappearing.

Azzedine Alaïa features on the exhibition's poster - associationazzedinealaia.org

The exhibition is being staged at the Alaïa Foundation, named after the renowned designer and collector who died in 2017, and showcases 80 creations, for the first-ever joint retrospective of these two fashion masters. The story started in 1968, when Balenciaga decided to close down his eponymous label, as he increasingly failed to identify with the boom of ready-to-wear. Alaïa was then invited to take his pick of the Balenciaga dresses slated to be thrown away or sold, and do what he chose with them.

Alaïa chose to preserve them religiously, and from then on he began “to secretly collect [creations] by all his favourite grand masters of fashion,” having felt, ever since that episode, “a great responsibility towards fashion’s heritage,” said exhibition curator and fashion historian Olivier Saillard, talking to the AFP agency.

The exhibition also tells the story of “the stylistic convergence of the two couturiers,” who never met, but both became famous for the cuts and the perfect sculptural designs of their creations. “I no longer know of any designers who are themselves capable of cutting, assembling and hand-stitching together a dress. Some may do it in part, but they won’t build their career on it,” added Saillard.

“Instead, telling oneself ‘I’m going to spend my life replicating the same dress over and over again until I find it's perfect’, as Alaïa and Balenciaga did, is something else entirely. They were the Jean Prouvé or the Le Corbusier of their generation, they didn’t work to pursue ephemeral trends, they worked to create clothes that could be enjoyed for a long time,” said Saillard.

The exhibition will run until June 28, and opened during Paris Haute Couture Week, which ended last Thursday, and was marked also by the farewell show by Jean Paul Gaultier, 67, another leading designer who had been struggling with the frenetic pace of fashion for some years. The enfant terrible of French fashion took the industry by surprise, announcing he is giving up on catwalk shows after staging a truly spectacular one last Wednesday, in order to dedicate himself to another, as yet undisclosed project.

In another surprise announcement, the Creative Director of Balenciaga, Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia, said the label is keen to return to the world of haute couture. “It's where we come from, and we will return there after more than 50 years,” he declared in an interview to French daily paper Le Figaro this week.

“It’s touching that this label, which closed down due to the birth of ready-to-wear, is able to bring its haute couture back to life thanks to its success in ready-to-wear, something which five years ago would have been impossible to envisage. Both the label and its founder deserve it,” said Gvasalia.

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