Azzedine Alaïa, 82, fashion’s most independent designer

By Vanessa Friedman New York Times 

NEW YORK — Azzedine Alaïa, one of the greatest and most uncompromising designers of the 20th and 21st centuries, died Saturday in Paris. He was 82.

His company said the cause was a heart attack.


Known as a sculptor of the female form, whose clothes were worn by women from Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga, Mr. Alaïa was equally famous for his rejection of the fashion system and his belief that it had corrupted the creative power of what could be an art form. He rarely hewed to the official show calendar, preferring to reveal his work when he deemed it ready, as opposed to when retailers or press demanded it.

Instead he built his own system, and family of supporters, and since the turn of the millennium had become an increasingly important voice for the value of striving to perfect and explore a single proprietary aesthetic and against giving in to the relentless pressure to produce collections.

His kitchen, where he was famous for holding free-flowing lunch and dinner gatherings, for which he often cooked, was his soapbox. There he would regale guests — who could include designers, Kardashians, artist Julian Schnabel, architect Peter Marino, and seamstresses from his ateliers — long into the night with opinions, stories and exhortations.

Short — at least, compared with supermodels like Naomi Campbell, who called him “Papa,” and Farida Khelfa — he was always attired in a uniform of black Chinese cotton pajamas. He was famous for working long hours alone, bent over patterns and pieces of fabric, with National Geographic programs playing on the wide screen TV nearby.

Mr. Alaïa dedicated his life to the belief that fashion was more than just garments; to him, they were as much an element in the empowerment of women and of a broader cultural conversation.