Shown in Paris Fashion Week during spring 1985, Azzedine Alaïa’s spring/summer 1986 collection possesses many of his signature design elements, centered on his now famous body-conscious garments and bias cuts. Alaïa’s designs encapsulate the hyper-feminine, sexually charged era of the 1980s, popularizing body-conscious silhouettes, and accentuating the bust and waist.
Alaïa’s 1980s designs favored what the New York Times called women who lean “oh-so-slightly toward the full-bodied.” In the mid-1980s—when trends began leaning toward a more masculine yet simultaneously sexualized feminine look—Alaïa’s popularity was building, and his clothing line had recently been picked up by Barneys in New York. The 1986 spring/summer collection incorporates some of the bulky yet cinched designs seen in Alaïa’s previous fall collection, but mostly depends on his practically sewn-on dresses, achieving what journalist and photographer Bill Cunningham referred to as “putting women back in clothes designed to illuminate the curves of the female.”
Some suited ensembles make an appearance, mimicking Alaïa’s chosen personal uniform of Chinese pajamas, as well as skirt and jacket combinations, adapting the fall silhouette to a vibrant spring palette. The collection depends heavily on colorful satins, in hues that fashion commentator Suzy Menkes later dubbed signature “Alaïa colors,” such as rusty browns, deep indigos, and vibrant jewel tones of magenta, citron, and peridot. The bandage dresses make especially good use of the brilliant satins, accentuating every curve and seam of the garment. Grace Jones’s now iconic magenta bandage dress makes an appearance, modeled by Jones herself.
While not considered a groundbreaking collection in and of itself, Alaïa’s spring/summer 1986 presentation contained revolutionary work—work that has always been, as Alexander Fury remarks, “about dressing a body, not constructing a dress.” This obsession with sculpting flesh became synonymous with sex appeal during the 1980s, causing Alaïa to garner the nickname of “king of cling.” His designs became emblematic of the 1980s sexual revolution, even causing Christa Worthington of Women’s Wear Daily to describe him thus: “Probably the most copied and influential designer of the early 1980s, Alaïa defined an era of sensational, skintight shape with a genius for cut and seamed in sex appeal.”
Many of Alaïa’s 1980s designs have become individually famous, and the spring/summer 1986 collection introduced Grace Jones’s hooded magenta bandage dress to the fashion world. Grace, Alaïa’s muse and one of his top clients, immortalized the garment through shoots at Alaïa’s atelier, and later wore a different version of the dress in the James Bond film A View to Kill. Thirty years later, the dress had pride of place in the 2015 exhibit “Couture/Sculpture” at Rome’s Borghese Gallery.
Shortly after the spring/summer 1986 fashion week presentation, Alaïa was named Best Creator at the 1985 Paris Fashion Oscars. Yet soon after, Alaïa shied away from fashion right at the height of his career, due to his sister’s illness and death, remaining relatively quiet for some time. In the early 2000s Alaïa resurfaced in the fashion sphere, causing many to remark that his designs retained their initial appeal. An exhibition at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands from December 2011 to May 2012, titled “Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century,” reviewed his creations of the preceding ten years. In an interview with Fiona Cook, curator Mark Wilson stated: “He’s still so relevant. All of his pieces look like they could be made today or tomorrow; even the ones from the 1980s. He doesn’t follow trends.” Alaïa’s persistent contemporary appeal can be attributed to his classicist inspiration. He has called Madeline Vionnet “the high goddess of fashion.” Wilson explains that Alaïa’s appeal comes from his perspective as “a classicist—none of these things look dated. It’s about a contemporary master with the very old masters.”
Alaïa has been grouped alongside Ungaro as both designers believed in glorifying the female form. He reinvigorated the lean, curvy, tightly wound silhouette that became prominent during the 1980s. Despite their synonymy with 1980s fashion, Alaïa’s designs possess a timeless quality—the designer himself quantifies this: “There is an evolution, but fashion hasn’t changed so much.”Alaïa’s designs have found a prominent spot within fashion history, and he continues to have many admirers. Nicolas Ghesquière praises him as a “great craftsman,” and in the early twenty-first century Alaïa dresses celebrities like Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, and Rihanna.
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W Magazine, March 2011. http://www.wmagazine.com/fashion/2011/03/nicolas_ghesquiere-2/ (accessed 10 January 2016).. “The Change Agent.”
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