Saturday, April 2, 2016

Azzedine Alaïa: Blending Fashion and Art in ‘Couture/Sculpture’

Slide Show

Slide Show|9 Photos

Azzedine Alaïa’s Soft Sculpture Exhibit

Azzedine Alaïa’s Soft Sculpture Exhibit

CreditGabriel Bouys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ROME — The riskiest, potentially most contentious fashion show of couture week did not, as it happens, take place during couture at all. It was not held in Paris, it was not on the official schedule and it did not involve clothes to sell.
It was the exhibition “Couture/Sculpture,” a display of 65 garments by Azzedine Alaïa at the Villa Borghese, arrayed selectively among the Berninis and Caravaggios, the marble and mosaics, of the 17th-century palace. When it comes to equating fashion with art, the potential for being accused of hubris doesn’t get much greater. (Even if the idea originated with the museum’s director, Anna Coliva, and not the designer.)
“We were a little nervous, to be honest,” the artist Kris Ruhs, a member of the extended Alaïa family who had helped install the show, said at the opening. He gestured around the rooms, which were crowded with visitors — most paying homage by wearing their own Alaïas — and in the direction of Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne.” “There’s a lot of competition,” he said.
Yet the result “was totally harmonious,” as Alber Elbaz of Lanvin said before posing with Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino (and Mr. Alaïa).
Recently, it has become something of a trend to take fashion out of the costume ghetto and plunk it, without apology, in the heart of a museum, the better to link applied arts with fine arts and to demonstrate how visual inspiration of every kind has its expression in clothes. The most recent example is the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute show “China: Through the Looking Glass,” which spreads throughout three floors, including the Chinese galleries. Inserting dresses and the like into the artistic establishment is not a simple proposition, however; as Holland Cotter wrote in a New York Times review of the show, “The difference between the two disciplines is, too often, made glaring.”
Not this time, however.
According to the curator Mark Wilson, who worked with Ms. Coliva on the exhibition (and who curated two previous exhibits of Mr. Alaïa’s work, at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands in 1997 and 2011), it took him only three hours to decide which clothes should go where.
So, for example, a white knit minidress, the skirt pleated à la gladiator, echoes the curves of a marble bust; a sinuous knit gown with a spine of sorts running down the center reflects the proportions and draped hemlines of a nearby goddess on a plinth; and a sleeveless velvet sheath, laced down the center with a priestlike collar, almost fades into the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio’s “Madonna, Child and Serpent.”
What is striking is the way the clothes sneak up on you, processed in the grand scheme of the panorama not as foreign objects but rather objects that have earned inclusion on their own merits. (It’s worth noting that Mr. Alaïa remade some of his older dresses, adjusting and elongating their silhouettes to better serve the space.) And, without the identification plaques, there would be no way to date the garments; a dress made in the 1990s looks of a piece with a dress made in 2015.
Such consistent aesthetic handwriting is rare in fashion, which places a premium on the ability to reflect what designers like to call the zeitgeist (and hence create the ever-changing fads on which the industry is built). Mr. Alaïa couldn’t care less about the zeitgeist. He’s interested in the possibilities of cloth and how it can be manipulated to idealize the body, and he has spent his career honing that idea. That is probably why its expressions work so well amid statuary dedicated in part to the acme of the human form.
“It was perfect,” said Camille Miceli, the designer of Louis Vuitton’s fashion accessories, as she left the show for the celebratory dinner in the gardens that followed the opening. Then, on the marble staircase outside the gallery, she started to twirl, her skirt flying out around her.
“Azzedine made it,” she said. “It was my wedding dress, but I don’t know how to tie the belt correctly.”
She looked back through the glass doors at the gowns beyond and fiddled with her waist. “Only he can get it right,” she said.

Art | In the Flower District, Galleries Bloom

An installation view of “Haris Epaminonda: Vol. XVII,” currently on view at Casey Kaplan gallery in the flower district. Credit Dawn Blackman, courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York
Slotted between the wholesalers, flower peddlers and midrange hotels, a new crop of galleries have sprung up in New York’s flower district. They’re in the area for various reasons, but they share one thing in common — a love for their neighborhood. “We decided to move into the flower district and Tin Pan Alley because it has history and personality, like our gallery. It’s a part of a New York that exemplifies what this city used to be like,” says Galeria Nara Roesler’s artistic director, Alexandra Garcia Waldman. Waldman oversees the Brazilian gallery’s recently opened outpost on Tin Pan Alley — the stretch of 28th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway — but this is not the curator’s first time in the city; she went to school here and has been back and forth ever since. This April, Waldman promotes the films of Cao Guimarães, one of Brazil’s most prolific artists of the 1980s. As Guimaraes’s first solo show in New York, the exhibition exemplifies the gap Nara Roesler hopes to fill in the cultural landscape.
Turn right out of Galeria Nara Roesler and you’ll see the neon of Planthouse, an independent gallery that takes its name from its first home, a wholesale florist on 27th street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. When their previous landlord told Planthouse’s owners, Katie Michel and Brad Ewing, that their gallery would be demolished, they scored a second-story space across the avenue. Both printers by day, Michel and Ewing rely on outsiders for curatorial direction. Their upcoming show, “Dark Star: Abstraction and Cosmos,” curated by Raymond Foye, looks at the universe through the eyes of eightartists including Jordan Belson, Tamara Gonzales and Sally Webster. While Ewing and Michel love the industrial feel of the area, they really chose it because of its proximity to their day jobs at Grenfell Press. “It was really convenience for us,” says co-owner Ewing. “I’ve been commuting here for 11 years. When we found the flower shop, it just felt right.”
A block away, the veteran dealer Casey Kaplan just celebrated his one-year anniversary on 27th Street. The gallerist moved to the neighborhood in 2015 after finding an ideal space for a white cube among the mostly commercial offerings. “I had been looking in Manhattan for about a year,” Kaplan says. “When I saw this space, I believed it was a place the gallery could inhabit for the next 10 years.” The current show, “Haris Epaminonda: Vol. XVII,” makes use of the space’s refurbished architecture with references to display and structure. Epaminonda’s sculpture vignettes, made of pedestals, vases and models, bring to mind the eclectic amalgamation of purveyors and manufacturers right outside the gallery doors. Familiarizing themselves with the area, Kaplan and his team are continually discovering new hole-in-the-wall shops. “I didn’t set out to be here, but I like the neighborhood,” Kaplan admits. “It’s very much real New York.”

A Day in the Life of Alaïa’s First Assistant, Illustrated

For most people — fashion folk included — the house of Azzedine Alaïa is enigmatic. But not for Hideki Seo: the Hiroshima-born, Paris-based artist, who is also a designer in his own right, met Alaïa at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 2005, when the couturier reviewed thesis collections, Seo’s among them. Soon after, Alaïa hired him to research Japanese fabrics. Now — a decade later — Seo is Alaïa’s first assistant, responsible for sketching everything from silhouettes to inventive prints, as well as studying materials and their accouterments. Here, he draws a day in his life exclusively for T.

7 a.m. Breakfast at home, in the Marais

An early — and spirited — riser, Seo greets the day. “Today will be beautiful! Last night, Mr. Alaïa invited me to dinner, so that’s on my mind — he always energizes me and inspires me to create.” (“Mouchi” is Alaïa’s nickname for Seo.)

8 a.m. Getting dressed

Seo has perfected a uniform. “This is the best outfit for me, knowing that I’ll be on the move all day,” he says. “I’ve had this Martin Margiela belt for 15 years and I’m loyal to these Uniqlo jeans. I’ve gone through seven pairs of the same exact style.”

9 a.m. A factory visit in Montmartre

Before he heads to the studio, Seo stops by a factory to pick up material for one of his own wearable art pieces, which incorporate surreal shapes and bright palettes. (Two of his designs are included in the “Fairy Tale Fashion” exhibition at the Museum at FIT.) Sometimes he drops in daily, sometimes only three times a week, depending on the project at hand — in this case it’s a bulky, stackable dress. “I ask the man for a good cut, and a good price, and he tells me not to worry, he knows me.”

2 p.m. At the Alaïa studio, in the Marais

Seo, whose duties range from researching materials to sketching, says, “The best moments are working alongside Mr. Alaïa at the atelier. I learn so much from him — here, he’s telling me about skirt hemlines as I take notes. We’re surrounded by the usual tools, and the usual topics: silhouettes, volume and color.”

7 p.m. Drinks at Alaïa’s home, in the Marais

He has an aperitif with Alaïa and his partner, the painter Christoph von Weyhe. Caroline Fabre Bazin, Alaïa’s studio director, and the gallerist and 10 Corso Como founder Carla Sozzani also attend, along with Seo’s wife, Miki, and a few others. “Of course, there’s Didine, too,” Seo says. “He’s Mr. Alaïa’s 8-year-old St. Bernard. We all talk as though we’re family.”

10 p.m. Skype meetings

Back at home in the Marais, Seo speaks over Skype to Susan Barrett and Kelly Peck of the consulting group Barrett Barrera Projects, whom he met in New York three years ago. “Susan opened the door to the art world for me and now, I’m working with her on exhibition opportunities in China,” Seo says, shifting out of Alaïa mode. On the other screen is Beth Terry, one of his biggest champions. “I appreciate that technology lets us speak face-to-face.”

12 a.m. Working at home

“After being together for a decade, I’ve adopted Mr. Alaïa’s work ethic,” Seo says, referencing the designer’s nonstop mentality. But, he’s careful to point out that toiling round-the-clock is separate from the runaway train-speed of the fashion calendar. Alaïa shows on his own schedule, separate from Paris Fashion Week, and his upcoming presentation is scheduled for April 3. Here, Seo experiments with the proportions of a future Alaïa garment.

3 a.m. Sketching before bed

“I like to work until 2 or 3 in the morning,” Seo says. He listens to music while he draws, typically a mix of T.Rex, Sid Vicious, Buena Vista Social Club and Ry Cooder. “Initially, it was difficult to separate my own projects from my work for Mr. Alaïa, but I filled up 1,000 blank pages with drawings to sort of reset myself. Then I was able to split my brain between the two.”

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