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9 Jan

Paris Museum to Showcase Azzedine Alaïa’s Collection of Vintage

TREASURE TROVE: Palais Galliera is staging one other Azzedine Alaïa retrospective this yr — only this time, it should focus not on his own designs, but on his vast personal collection of high fashion garments.

Titled “Azzedine Alaïa, couturier collectionneur” (“Azzedine Alaïa: Couturier, collector,”) the exhibition will run on the Paris City Hall-backed fashion museum from Sept. 27 until Jan. 21, 2024. This follows an Alaïa retrospective held on the museum in 2013 to coincide with its reopening after 4 years of renovations.

The show will draw on an archive of 20,000 garments amassed by the late Tunisian designer, said Olivier Saillard, director of the Association Azzedine Alaïa and curator of the exhibition. They include pieces by the likes of Madeleine Vionnet, Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Jean Patou, in addition to more contemporary designs by Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, amongst others.

The extent of Alaïa’s personal couture collection was discovered following his passing in 2017, and was somewhat overwhelming, with garments densely packed within the basement of his headquarters on Rue de Moussy in Paris. The gathering has since been catalogued and is now kept in museum-grade warehouses.

Alaïa began collecting in 1968, when Balenciaga closed his high fashion atelier and Madame Renée, who headed the workshop, invited the young designer to salvage fabrics. As an alternative, he preciously conserved the dresses he found.

“It was the world’s biggest private collection of high fashion and he began collecting very early,” Saillard told WWD. “It was to guard the heritage. He couldn’t help it. He felt an urgent must safeguard the memory not only of the couturiers, but additionally of the workshops that produced the garments.”

Saillard, who headed the Palais Galliera from 2010 to early 2018, said Alaïa’s appetite for collecting outstripped that of all other private and non-private institutions. “After I was running a museum, all the most effective pieces would get snapped up by Azzedine,” he marveled.

The gathering reflects Alaïa’s own tastes as much because the talent of the designers he admired. Saillard noted, for instance, a preponderance of black, red and blue outfits, and he said Alaïa collected U.S. designers similar to Charles James, Adrian and Claire McCardell, whose work has been largely ignored by French institutions.

The exhibition will provide the primary glimpse of the gathering, with a collection of some 150 pieces. Alaïa owned 900 designs by Madame Grès alone, making the choice process a difficult one. “It was difficult, because there are such a lot of masterpieces,” said Saillard. “It’s like having a 3rd fashion museum in France.”   

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