“This Is an Alaïa": The Couturier Shows His Masterful 21st-Century Designs at the Groninger Museum

(© Azzedine Alaïa / Photo: Robert Kot)

Those not familiar with the 72-year-old designer Azzedine Alaïa may remember a mention in the 1995 cult classic “Clueless.” “You don’t understand,” squealed the film’s protagonist, Cher, played by Alicia Silverstone, as she was forced to the ground and held at gunpoint in a red dress by the designer. “This is an Alaïa.”

The couturier’s designs are back in the public eye, this time in the Netherlands at the Groninger Museum, which is hosting a portion of the designer’s oeuvre through May 27 in an exhibition titled “Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century.”

The show traces the last decade of work from the Tunisian-born designer, who was originally trained as a sculptor and is known in the fashion world for being a rebel, thanks to his open criticism of Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour, and his disregard of the industry’s schedule, adhering to the notion that his designs are ready when he says so. Last year, he held his first couture show in eight years. He also miraculously manages to keep the designs from his ready-to-wear shows from becoming ubiquitous by maintaining a strict no photography policy. (Now there’s a strategy for keeping fast fashion retailers like Forever 21 and H&M at bay!)

All of the garments featured in the exhibition are carefully fitted, impeccably constructed, and oozing with sex appeal — the designer’s signature marks. A sharp tailcoat accented with crocodile from summer/fall 2003 is included, as well as a ruffled salmon pink ensemble from winter 2008, and a decadent black gown adorned with a paillette and ruffle waist and suggestive cut-out back, from his winter 2011 couture collection.

“Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century” follows a 1998 retrospective of the designer’s work at the Groninger that went on to the Guggenheim’s now-closed SoHo location in 2000 and the Brant Foundation in 2002. Since we don’t know if or when Alaïa will show his next collection, this exhibition may be our only way to indulge in his exquisite mastery in the foreseeable future.

Click on the slide show to see highlights from “Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century,” on view at the Groninger Museum through May 27.