TREASURE TROVE: Palais Galliera is staging another Azzedine Alaïa retrospective this year — only this time, it will focus not on his own designs, but on his vast personal collection of haute couture garments.
Titled “Azzedine Alaïa, couturier collectionneur” (“Azzedine Alaïa: Couturier, collector,”) the exhibition will run at the Paris City Hall-backed fashion museum from Sept. 27 until Jan. 21, 2024. This follows an Alaïa retrospective held at the museum in 2013 to coincide with its reopening after four 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, as well as more contemporary designs by Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, among others.
The extent of Alaïa’s personal couture collection was discovered following his passing in 2017, and was somewhat overwhelming, with garments densely packed in the basement of his headquarters on Rue de Moussy in Paris. The collection has since been catalogued and is now kept in museum-grade warehouses.
Alaïa began collecting in 1968, when Balenciaga closed his haute couture atelier and Madame Renée, who headed the workshop, invited the young designer to salvage fabrics. Instead, he preciously conserved the dresses he found.
“It was the world’s biggest private collection of haute couture and he started collecting very early,” Saillard told WWD. “It was to protect the heritage. He couldn’t help it. He felt an urgent need to safeguard the memory not only of the couturiers, but also of the workshops that produced the clothes.”
Saillard, who headed the Palais Galliera from 2010 to early 2018, said Alaïa’s appetite for collecting outstripped that of all other public and private institutions. “When I was running a museum, all the best pieces would get snapped up by Azzedine,” he marveled.
The collection reflects Alaïa’s own tastes as much as the talent of the designers he admired. Saillard noted, for example, a preponderance of black, red and blue outfits, and he said Alaïa collected U.S. designers such as Charles James, Adrian and Claire McCardell, whose work has been largely overlooked by French institutions.
The exhibition will provide the first glimpse of the collection, with a selection of some 150 pieces. Alaïa owned 900 designs by Madame Grès alone, making the selection process a challenging one. “It was difficult, because there are so many masterpieces,” said Saillard. “It’s like having a third fashion museum in France.”