Discover the designer's intimate home-hotel at 5 rue de Moussy.
Trained in sculpture before embarking into fashion, Azzedine Alaia expertly eyes the sculptural abstractions of Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata at his Paris gallery.
"For me design has real presence, just like sculpture," explains Azzedine Alaia, whose training in sculpture is not only beautifully articulated in his sinewy fashion constructions but in his taste for exceptional creativity. In 1992, when his long-time friend Carla Sozzani introduced him to the work of Shiro Kuramata and Marc Newson at her gallery in Milan, Alaia discovered the expressive scope of contemporary design. His passion was instantly ignited. Drawn to dramatic proportions, fine lines and sensual forms, Alaia has been "indulging" his design obsession with an instinctive nomadic spirit.
This fall, Alaia hosts a retrospective exhibition of Shiro Kuramata's ethereal designs at his Paris gallery, co-sponsored by Carla Sozzani and the designer's wife, Meiko Kuramata. One of the most influential designers of his generation, the show highlights 30 of the Kuramata's masterpieces and a selection of his rare drawings.
Next door, at 5 rue de Moussy, conviviality and design are bedmates at Alaia's brand-new 3-suite guesthouse. The hotel, whose address double as its name, is inspired by Carla Sozzani's 3Rooms Corso Como hotel in Milan. Conceived as an extension to his private universe, the guesthouse is decorated and orchestrated down to the very last detail by Alaia himself. By sharing his cherished design discoveries with his privileged guests, it is one of his most intimate creations to date.
DEFINITION OF LUXURY
What is your definition of luxury?
To give definition to luxury contradicts what luxury is. It's space and how you use it and live in it.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
Something that provokes a strong sensation.
If it luxury were a place, where would it be?
Paris is a place that has that feeling of luxury. When you cross the Seine by car, it's a sensational moment.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
All women. Since I love Paris, I would have to say that it's the voice of Paris, because Parisian women have a timbre to their voice that you find nowhere else.
When did you first encounter the work of Shiro Kuramata and what impact did it have on you?
I don't think that people realize his importance. What interests me the most is his work with transparency. His forms are present and then again not really there. Whether it's a table or a chair there's a greater idea behind it. The first time I saw his designs was at Carla Sozzani's gallery in Milan in 1992. She held an exhibition of Kuramata and Marc Newson's work. Both artists completely altered my perspective on design.
When did you decide to show his work?
It was when I was in Japan with Carla Sozzani. Kuramata's wife, Meiko Kuramata, invited us to lunch at the restaurant that Kuramata designed. The restaurant is a precious jewel of a space and the food is to die for. I asked Meiko if I could do an exhibition, and then sent her all of the floor plans, etc. She's going to be staying here at 5 rue Moussey with her daughter for several days during the show.
What attracts you to certain designs?
When I buy something it's really because I'm moved by the design immediately—the forms, the proportions, everything. The big couch that I have by Paulin–an artist that I admire incredibly— articulates the space with the strength of its forms. He's just fantastic. I also love the work of Marc Newson who has become a close friend. His sculpted shapes are incredibly sensual, his metals, welcoming and warm. I also love Martin Szekely; he succeeds in placing a maximum amount of beauty in the simplicity of lines and materials. I would love to make a dress that simple, as if made of air. For me, it's like an actor that walks onto an empty stage with a presence and force all his own. I also adore the work of Dutch designer Hella Jongerius. I have something by her but we haven't met yet.
Why kind of pleasure to you get through collecting design?
What I love in painting is untouchable, so I let myself go with design. For me design has a real presence, just like sculptures. If I indulge myself in design, it's because when I'm at home I see things and experience things as if I were traveling. I voyage with these objects, if not, I never leave the house.
Kuramata greatest challenge was to give the impression of structure without showing any evidence of its existence. Like Kuramata, are there certain challenges that you repeatedly confront in your work?
Yes, there are problems in the realization of every garment. I'm never sure of my work as if I was learning for the first time, every time. With each piece, even the ones that have been reworked repeatedly, there are other difficulties that pop up, notably the need to manipulate the design and find a way to place it "in the moment."
How do you know when you've arrived at that moment?
Me, I know nothing about the moment. I'm constantly running after it. That's why it's a constant problem. It's up to women to adapt clothing in their own way and to place it in the moment. Fashion has always been about following what women want and desire. Often the moment is triggered by a generational shift, when a girl starts to borrow her mother's old clothes, which is when there's a change in silhouette. For me it's the young people that give the direction.
Why did you decide to open up a guesthouse?
At the start, I wanted to have a floor with several bedrooms and bathrooms where 'my girls' could stay because when I first started working, they would always sleep here. Naomi, Veronica, Tatiana, Linda, they all used to sleep on mattresses on the floor. Today, when I think back and remember them sleeping on those small mattresses with washed out blankets and de-elasticized sheets, I look around and say, how lovely, they're great stars now that can stay at the Ritz. So I did this really so that whenever they come to Paris they can stay with me comfortably for as long as they like.
Do you consider the hotel to be an extension of your home?
Absolutely, it's an extension of everything that has happened in my life. The same faces from the past, the new arrivals, the new models, the new friends. Everyday when I wake I have this bolt of curiosity and I say to myself, what pleasure, who am I going to meet today, what am I going to see, what am I going to learn?
Who stays at the hotel?
Many of the people are close friends. For example Veronica Webb and her family are here for several days in two of the suites. But there are new faces too — a women from LA that read an article in the NY Times has just reserved with her family a third time, and then there's a group of Asians who stay during the shows.
How is the hotel decorated?
There's Pierre Paulin, Jean Prouvé, Marc Newson, it's my selection even in the choice of architecture. I found many of my pieces through Didier Krentowski from the gallery Kreo. We are very close and speak at least 10 times a day. We share the same sensibilities for design and contemporary art. He has the most incredibly selection of contemporary design.
Why are the apartments prices so inexpensively?
Because I said to myself, if I were to stay at a hotel I wouldn't want to pay more.