At two in the morning, under a starlit Paris sky, I looked out across the courtyard in the Marais, and I could recognize the silhouette of my favorite friend-a man I have known intimately for so many years that I endearingly refer to him as Papa-the great designer Azzedine Alaïa. There he was in his atelier, as always, totally immersed in his work. His show was just days away, but you might see that silhouette there any night. He works whenever inspiration strikes.
I had just come from a dinner with Azzedine's usual eclectic mix of guests, which included some of the most creative people in Paris. He had arranged the seating and prepared the food himself-as with his collections, his hand was in every detail. When I'm in Paris, these dinners are the highlight of my visit. Staying Chez Alaïa reminds you of being at a large family house where conversation and the exchange of ideas are the order of the day-and the night.
Azzedine might be the designer who best understands a woman's anatomy, which makes sense because he also is a man who understands a woman's heart and soul. The poetry of Azzedine comes from the fact that he is always free. Buying back his name from the Prada Group in 2007, he formed a partnership with the Compagnie Financière Richemont which allows him to design his way-usually very late at night with an old film playing in the background. Azzedine is not only a great couturier, he is a historian of couture and he is now setting up a foundation to preserve his archives and his priceless haute couture collection.
Azzedine Alaïa is a classicist, possessing a total understanding of the architecture of the female form, of how to drape, and of how to use materials. He doesn't design for a season, he designs for a body. And he continually reinvents himself, always perfecting and improving on what he has done so brilliantly for a lifetime. I began collecting Alaïa when I started modeling for him as a teenager, and I own pieces that continue to astonish me every time I put them on. He even designed my wedding dress. I am honored that Azzedine entrusted me with this interview and that I can share with readers an intimate glimpse of a man who defines genius.
STEPHANIE SEYMOUR BRANT: Okay, Papa, I thought it would be good to start from the beginning. Tell me about growing up in Tunisia.
AZZEDINE ALAÏA: My grandfather in Tunisia was a police officer. He worked in the ID card department. When I didn't have school, he would take me to work with him. I would sit next to the woman who made the ID cards, and she always took three pictures of people. This woman would use a cutter-the photo-booth paper was very thick-then she'd glue and stamp one picture onto the passport, give me another to staple onto their police files, and the third one would be thrown away. I would gather these scrapped photos from the garbage, put them in an envelope, and organize them later at home. I separated the blonde women, the brunettes, the black women, and the men, too, into long hair, short hair, mustaches . . .
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