PARIS — “We found amazing things; he had all the books on Madeleine Vionnet, books that nobody else has, hidden up in his apartment. He had treasures,” said Carla Sozzani over coffee on Thursday in the fabled kitchen of the Maison Alaïa HQ in the Marais district here.
Flanked by Azzedine Alaïa’s life partner, painter Christoph von Weyhe, with Alaïa’s massive St. Bernard, Didine, at their feet, Sozzani was taking a break from overseeing preparations for the opening of the Maison Alaïa bookstore, La Librairie, on Saturday.
Located just off the kitchen, the store gives onto the courtyard of 18 rue de la Verrerie, the house in which the late couturier lived and worked, and where he envisioned his museum. A café will open in January.
The space used to house a small boutique run by Alaïa’s twin sister, Hafida, selling a mix of vintage pieces and creations by the Tunisian-born designer, who died in late 2017.
Members of the Alaïa team moved about the store area dotted with unpacked boxes of books. Lying on a table, waiting to be positioned on the end wall, was a giant portrait of the designer by his friend, artist and director Julian Schnabel, made of broken plates.
The store will carry books related to the couturier’s legacy and passions, including artists exhibited by Alaïa in his gallery, as well as rare, out-of-print works from the fields of fashion and photography. For the opening, a special selection of out-of-print and artists’ editions will be displayed by Studio Montespecchio, the bookstore of Jan van der Donk.
The intimate space is furnished with pieces from Alaïa’s private collection, including a bookshelf by Jean Prouvé, lighting by Serge Mouille Editions, and a table combining a base by American artist Kris Ruhs with marble tabletops sourced by Alaïa at a fish market.
“We want to keep doing with integrity what he wanted. It’s a joy for us. It also was a promise we made, the three of us,” said Sozzani. A lifelong friend of Alaïa’s, the Italian gallerist and retailer in 2007 cofounded the Azzedine Alaïa Association art foundation together with Alaïa and von Weyhe. Soon to be renamed the Azzedine Alaïa Foundation, today it is dedicated to safeguarding and celebrating the designer’s legacy.
Moving through the bookstore, Sozzani paused to leaf through some of the rare editions, including “Ettore Sottsass: Design Metaphors,” edited by Barbara Radice, and “Changes: Notes on Choreography,” by Merce Cunningham.
“Everything is unique, one-off, or very rare, difficult to find,” she said. “It makes the place a destination and also gives a sense to the bookshop, because Azzedine was a collector,” she added. “It’s nice to have a bookshop where young people can come and pick up something inexpensive, and where collectors can come and find something special.”
Friend of the house, fashion curator and historian Olivier Saillard, is working on a section dedicated to the history of fashion.
There will also be a book on Tati, the tacky French high street chain with the pink gingham logo that inspired Alaïa’s spring 1991 collection.
“He loved books, not only to read, but also for the images,” said Sozzani, fondly recalling a photo taken by Lord Snowdon in 1990 of Alaïa surrounded by giant books from his collection.
The couturier’s library has been moved to a new space next to where he used to work as part of what is to become a learning center for fashion. “Students will be allowed to consult the library,” said Sozzani, adding: “He had a huge collection of the Gazette du Bon Ton, all the Vogues…He also loved to hide things. He would say, ‘Have a look at this,’ but then you would never see it again. I’m not sure that he would be too pleased that now, we have access to everything.”
The foundation aims to continue publishing books, with two in the pipeline. One will be on Alaïa’s kitchens, and the other the story of Maison Alaïa. The latter is to accompany the launch of an international award for underprivileged young designers due — “hopefully” — to launch at the end of 2019.
“Azzedine came to Paris in the Fifties without money, without papers, he really was not privileged in any shape or form, except that he had amazing talent. And the fact that he made it as far as he did is a great example for young people,” said Sozzani, adding that students will be given access to the atelier, “where they can learn to master the techniques,” and the studio, “where the clothes are made.”
“We could do a photography section, and there’s the archives…We have so many different fields that people could be interested in,” she said. “Azzedine always said, ‘We have to give.’ So let’s try to give.”