Screen for Azzedine Alaia: The Couturier at Design Museum LondonView text
Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier, the first exhibition to be shown in the UK on the legendary designer at the Design Museum. Conceived and co-curated by Azzedine Alaïa himself, prior to his death in November 2017, the exhibition explored his extraordinary work, spanning his prolific career from the early ‘80s to his very last masterpieces towards the end of 2017. Over 60 rare garments were displayed in the exhibition co-curated by Mark Wilson, Chief Curator of the Groninger Museum, alongside a series of specially commissioned architectural screens by Alaïa’s close friends, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Konstantin Grcic, Marc Newson, Kris Ruhs and Alaïa’s partner of many years, Christoph von Weyhe. Inspired by and complementing the garments on display, the commissioned works were the perfect backdrop to Alaïa’s exceptional creations which have shaped the course of fashion history over the past few decades.
In terms of scale, Marc Newson’s was the most ambitious. ‘It was crucial that the pieces remain about Alaïa rather than those intervening to enhance his work,’ says Newson. ‘That’s what we do as designers. I am always working for clients before working for myself. This project was no different, but there is a personal tinge to it because of our friendship,’ adds Newson, who first met Alaïa, through Sozzani, when living in Paris in the early 1990s.
‘There are qualities in Alaïa’s work which shine through: simplicity mixed with technical complexity, rigour, subtlety, sensuality and transparency,’ he continues. ‘There is transparency in many of his garments and that is also the quality of a screen. It’s not a wall, but it has to have some play of light and movement within the absolute structural parameters.’ Newson chose anodised aluminium for his design, adding ‘the metal contrasts and complements the idea that everything around it is a textile’.
The piece, made by aluminium specialist Neal Feay in California, was made up of 64 giant tiles, patterned using machine tools and boasting a soft, velvet-like surface. ‘The panels intersect, creating a random yet orderly pattern – almost like a houndstooth,’ says Newson. ‘The anodising process creates these subtle, profound colours – in this case, a flesh pink hue that Alaïa loved. It doesn’t look like hard metal, but sensual and tactile.’