>> He may be one of the lesser knowns of a design generation that includes Valentino Garavani, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, and Giorgio Armani, but at 68, Azzedine Alaia has carved out a niche of his own. Like Armani, Alaia owns his business, allowing him to design his way — as Stephanie Seymour, who spoke with the designer for March 2009 Interview puts it — "usually very late at night with an old film playing in the background." More elusive than Marc Jacobs but more forthcoming than Martin Margiela, a window into Alaia's world is always a treat; More from Seymour and the man she refers to as "Papa":
Alaia was fired from Christian Dior after five days.
I met my best friend, Leila, whose mother had connections to clients of Christian Dior in Paris, and eventually someone asked if I could come work there. I got the job. But when I arrived, it was the end of the Algerian War . After five days there they said to me, "You can't work here any longer. You're a foreigner."
"I have such fond memories . . ." »
His first atelier, in the apartment Rue de Bellechasse, had "sewing machines everywhere . . . in the bathroom, in the kitchen."
Stephanie Seymour Brant: I have such fond memories.
Azzedine Alaia: It made you laugh when you first visited! You were 14 years old.
SSB: Yes, I was. And I had never done a show in my life! I went on 20 go-sees around Paris and you were the only one who hired me. You even called your friends to try to persuade them to use me. Their response was, "Her rear is too round!" And your response was, "I think it's perfect." I was a total disaster in the shows. Your atelier was so small and you had to do three shows each day for seven days, so you just kept me on. That's when we became so close. You really took care of me, Papa.
I love the way you always have a fitting model living with you. You have a little room at your atelier where they stay and you knock whenever you need them — 24 hours a day!
AA: Oh, yes, always. Naomi [Campbell] was one.
His clothes were enough to cause a supermodel frenzy.
SSB: I remember when I was modeling for you, all of the girls fought over your clothes. We didn't want to be paid a fee. We wanted the dresses, the jackets . . . We left with a lot of your clothes in big bags! I thought I would take one dress but I'd end up leaving with 20.
AA: I gave you clothes because you gave me your time . . . The models didn't ask at first. I was the one to give the clothes to them.
SSB: Everybody was fighting for the clothes. Linda [Evangelista], Christy [Turlington], Naomi [Campbell], Tatjana [Patitz]. . .
AA: Yasmin [Le Bon] . . .
SSB: It was a frenzy. One of your early assistants, Eric, was the only one who could find the right size for you. They were all in little boxes. You had to wait your turn and you had to pray that they didn't run out of sizes, because all the girls wore the same sizes. It was fantastic! And everybody would say: "You haven't gone yet? There's not going to be anything left!" [Alaia laughs]