Their Hearts Belonged to Papa: 12 Models Share Their Memories of Azzedine Alaïa.
Photo: Condé Nast Archive
Linda Evangelista and Gail Elliott walk the Alaiia shows.
“I have so many beautiful memories of Azzedine. All of the models who worked with him in the late ’80s and ’90s do. He had the funniest sense of humor, he loved practical jokes, he was so generous. We were all very young girls and he looked after us, he guided, influenced, and taught us so much. He had a huge kitchen and dining room at his atelier and his chef would prepare lunch for literally 60 people during Fashion Week. All the models, fashion editors, photographers, and Azzedine staff would clamber down to the dining room and we’d eat and drink together.”
Looking through the collections, which date from the late ’80s and early ’90s, one notices the models as much as the clothes. The designer’s body-centric work celebrated the female form, and the individual for whom the look was created. His was not a disinterested or abstracted gaze. Alaïa had a uniquely fostering relationship with his muses, some of whom called him Papa—a conceit he played with for Spring 1992 when he showed an intarsia “tattoo” knit that read "Mon coeur est a papa" (my heart belongs to daddy).
His was a hardworking and tight-knit (in more ways than one!) family. “We were doing five shows a day, three days a week, every season in Azzedine’s tiny Rue de Bellechasse studio for many years.” recalls Gail Elliott. “Azzedine didn’t have the budget to pay us so we worked for clothing. We loved him and we loved his designs so it was always a pleasure. We’d cancel other paid shows to walk his runway.” “Walk. Stop. Go. Come by later and get a bag full of clothes,” is how Kara Young summarizes the models’ routine. These are clothes that have legs. While Veronica Webb has donated many of her pieces to museums, Khelfa says she’s still wearing pieces from the 1980s, and Elliott keeps her collection in a temperature-controlled room. For the women who worked with Alaïa, these incredibly made garments with their glove fits evoke memories of their maker. “He was just a wonderful, kind, humble, and generous person. . . but I think we all know that,” notes Vanessa Duve. Berverly Peele describes the designer as being “like a teddy bear that walked.” For Khelfa, Alaïa was a friend and an artist. “The clothes were his obsession and he was working, working, working—all day long, all the time. We were sitting around him, and he was talking with everyone, but still working and working. We will miss that very very much—I will miss that.”