Azzedine Alaïa, died on Saturday in Paris. He was 82.His company said the cause was a heart attack. Known as a sculptor of the female form, and worn by women from Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga, Mr. Alaïa was equally famous for his rejection of the fashion system and his belief that it had corrupted the creative power of what he believed was an art form.
“I dressed women directly on their body, by intuition. This is how I gained experience,” he once said.
His kitchen, where he was famous for holding free-flowing lunch and dinner gatherings, for which he often cooked, was his soapbox. There he would regale guests — who could include designers, Kardashians, the artist Julian Schnabel, the architect Peter Marino and seamstresses from his ateliers — long into the night with opinions, stories and exhortations.
He “changed my conception of fashion,” said Nicolas Ghesquière, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton, in a documentary on Mr. Alaïa made by the stylist Joe McKenna and released this year. “I thought fashion was about embellishment as a kid, and when I saw Azzedine’s work I understood fashion was about construction and architecture too. To have an amazing idea and the capacity to realize it yourself is the definitive act of a designer.”
Diminutive in stature — at least compared to supermodels like Naomi Campbell, who called him “Papa,” as he was a guardian of sorts for her in Paris at the beginning of her career, and Farida Khelfa — he was always attired in a uniform of black Chinese cotton pajamas. He was famous for working long hours alone, bent over patterns and pieces of fabric, with National Geographic programs playing on the wide-screen TV nearby next to a pillar collaged with photos of friends and their families.
He was also mischievous: He often lied about his age, once told a journalist that his mother was a Swedish model, and liked to hide from his staff members and then startle them by jumping out with a whistle. Prone to holding grudges, fond of animals (he had three dogs — including a St. Bernard — and eight cats), he could also be extraordinarily generous.
Mr. Alaïa dedicated his life to the belief that fashion was more than just garments; to him, they were as much an element in the empowerment of women and of a broader cultural conversation.
Azzedine Alaïa was born in Tunis, Tunisia, on Feb. 26, 1935 (though some biographical sources list his birth year as 1939 or 1940). He had a twin sister and a younger brother, and his father ran a wheat farm outside the city.
Azzedine became interested in art and design at a young age.“I was helping Madame Pinot, a midwife that helped in giving birth to my whole family,” he recalled in an interview with the fashion magazine The Ground in 2011. “I told her that I liked to draw. She gave me books, pamphlets to art exhibitions, and my first book of Picasso.”
Soon she registered him at the School of Fine Arts in Tunis, he said, “against my father’s will.” He also found a job in a small dress shop. “The owner was looking for someone to finish up the dresses,” he said. “My sister had learned sewing with the nuns, and she had a notebook with all the basics. That was my first real experience with fashion, and while I was in the shop, I improved dramatically.”
He is survived by his partner, the painter Christoph von Weyhe; and nieces and nephews. Some of his designs can be found in a slideshow here.