The Galleria Borghese museum in Rome on Thursday was brimming with tourists taking in the incredible collection of art on display, but Azzedine Alaïa was quite the showstopper himself as he walked through the building’s ornate salons with WWD for a preview of the “Couture/Sculpture: Azzedine Alaïa in the History of Fashion” exhibition. Signing autographs and posing for a few selfies with visitors professing enduring admiration, Alaïa carefully tucked a pleat here and fixed a drape there on some of the 65 designs on display. The looks seamlessly fit in with the art, whether they be bondage dresses in the Egyptian room or a crocodile jacket standing next to an antique armored bust.
“This is a mythical location, the most replete with masterpieces, and we did not want to move them around or disturb them,” said Alaïa, acknowledging the privilege of showing his designs in such a venue. Dresses in blue or red velvet stood near paintings by Caravaggio, almost reflecting the masterpieces’ lighting, while the designer’s dresses made with feather-light raffia and shells, horsehair or shark skin could have been inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s stunning marble statue of “Apollo and Daphne” depicting the nymph morphing into a tree. An off-white wool dress with a studded belt was juxtaposed against Bernini’s “David” and the armor at his feet. Drapes on the designer’s Greek-inspired dresses relate to the robes on classic statues.
Thirteen looks, including the legendary hooded bandage dress worn by Grace Jones in 1984, stood on transparent mannequins designed by Alaïa at the main entrance of the museum — a powerful initial visual impact.
“This shows how he holds up with old masters, it’s very clear and very simple,” said curator and longtime friend Mark Wilson of Alaïa. “I don’t even consider him a fashion person, he is an artist.”
Wilson, who curated the designer’s retrospective in 1997, when works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel were displayed near Alaïa’s designs, said in this case, “this is a natural process — he is the visitor whose works are integrated in the existing ones.”
Alaïa redid some looks to fit the mannequins and the size of the galleries, while others are original designs, such as Tina Turner’s short gold dress, or Charlotte Stockdale’s wedding gown for her marriage to Marc Newson.
Alaïa underscored his “respect for the location” and the several steps taken to choose the looks. “This is a special museum and not an exhibition space,” he said.
A dinner was held on Friday evening at the Galleria to honor Alaïa, and the exhibition will run until the end of October.