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Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century

As the elusive designer presents his signature dresses at the Groninger Museum, curator Mark Wilson tells us what the selection process was like

There are few designers who’d want to risk conducting themselves like Azzedine Alaïa. Rarely interacting with the media, paying no attention to trends, and showing sporadically and outside of the fashion calendar, it is a testament to Alaïa’s brilliance that - despite all this - he inspires the kind of devotion rarely matched by any of his contemporaries. The elusive designer is making up for his absence with the exhibition “Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century” which opens this weekend at the Groninger Museum.  

A sequel to a presentation held at the same institute back in 1997, the new instalment, which focuses on his signature dresses, has been constructed with pieces borrowed from Alaïa’s personal archive, and it's been reported that the ultra talented courtier, also known as a “sculptor of women’s bodies” reworked his creations to perfectly fit the mannequins. We got in touch with the curator, Mark Wilson, to find out more…

Dazed Digital: What was the process and experience of selecting the dresses with Alaïa like?
Mark Wilson: We have been friends for 15 years so it wasn’t complicated. We decided to do it by materials rather than chronological or by colours. He always goes back to the same materials so that was the most important thing. And maybe apart from the pieces he makes for private clients he keeps absolutely everything in his own archive. The exhibition has separate rooms for cotton, velvet, fur, skins, chiffon…we started going through the years, I think the oldest dress in the exhibition is from 2002.

DD: Your last exhibition on the designer was back in 1997, why did you feel now was the right time to curate a second one?
Mark Wilson: He has only ever done three exhibitions and all three of them were curated by me. Although we’re good friends now I don’t see him all the time, and I started Googling him and realised there hadn’t been an exhibition on him in a while and thought, ‘why not?’ Enough time has passed and there was a great amount of material to work with for such a show. He’s been pretty productive in the last 6 or 7 years, before that I think he focused on private clients.

DD: What’s your favourite piece in the exhibition?
Mark Wilson: Now a single work but the whole animal print and skin instillations because I feel it’s one of the strongest areas of the show.  Alaïa loves animals, his house is full of cats and dogs, he stays up late watching National Geographic.

DD: Why do you think he’s still having such an impact today despite notoriously shying away from the press?
Mark Wilson: Because he’s still so relevant. All of his pieces look like they could be made today or tomorrow; even the ones from the 80s. He doesn’t follow trends.

'Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century', from 11th Dec to May 6th, Groningen Museum, Museumeiland 19711 ME Groningen, The Netherlands