Every critic has his or her favorite. One of epic Times writer Cathy Horyn’s is Azzedine Alaïa. Of all the negative things she has to say about clothing, she never seems to say anything bad about his. So when she gets the opportunity to do an entire profile on the man — who doesn’t do much press, mind you — she gets pretty into it. Describing why a person is a good designer isn’t easy, but here goes Horyn on Alaïa:
Even without the cold gleam of the first lady’s arms, it provoked the idea that a woman tends to look her most beautiful in clothes that make her look strong, not glamorous or sexy or powerful. There is a difference. Those with a vivid memory of Stephanie Seymour squatting in Richard Avedon’s 1994 portrait to plant a kiss on her favorite designer, her naked buttocks leaving her Alaïa chaps with the whooosh of an automobile in a snowbound slide, will surely debate the point that strength is the essential ingredient of an Alaïa.
And maybe so. Maybe the notion of strong-looking fashion, based on concrete methods and examples rather than abstractions and ironic statements, is dying, and there is nobody around with the grit and stamina to map the geography of a woman’s body, as he has done for last 45 years. Ballet has its technique and physical rigors. Painting has its schools. American music has its places of the heart, like the Delta; cookery, its ingredients and careful preparations. Fashion, though, gets its power and unanswerable logic from the female body, and, at roughly 70, Azzedine Alaïa is its undisputed master.
That was quite a mouthful. Poetic, one might say. But Horyn continues:
Mr. Alaïa would show you how to make the dress and shut up about the rest. Not talking about it is also a way to avoid a falseness — the falseness of thinking poetic language can be applied to dressmaking.