"It is not the first time that I have done haute couture, but it is to my own rhythm," said Azzedine Alaïa after showing his first high fashion collection for six years.
"I’ve been doing couture since the start of my career," he explained. "While I enjoyed – and still enjoy – ready-to-wear, my roots are in couture, all my clothes are made first by myself, all patterns are traced by me and then developed by my couture ateliers, where 30 people work every day only on couture pieces.
"Shows are not important to me," the designer continued. "But it is one way of expressing my work."
With these rare words, Alaïa’s passionate vision and intensely personal way of working made a clear statement in the confusion that is today’s haute couture. In all the chaos, he stands alone as keeper of the flame for design caressed by human hands.
Alaïa is nothing if not passionate. He showed it in the intense decoration of the clothes that opened the collection: the three-dimensional textures; the torrid red colour; Naomi Campbell offering not just a memory of her supermodel past but also proving how chic and wearable the new Autumn/Winter 2017 looks are.
At a time when everything in designer fashion seems to be questioned – with ready-to-wear creatives infiltrating the haute couture season and the See Now Buy Now philosophy as the antithesis of hands-on high fashion – Alaïa chose to make a statement.
The reclusive designer did that both with his intricately-made clothes and in words.
"I don’t see the difference between couture and ready-to-wear," he said. "Everyone should do what feels good to express creativity."
At the heart of the show was a sense that the designer’s perky dresses, which had once been short and sweet, had now become elongated in line. The above-the-knee coats with the fluffy surface and three-dimensional patterns of roses at times linked up with the same pattern on up-to-the-knee boots. Or boots and hose just rose upwards to offer not a tweak of bare flesh.
The thigh-high leopard print boots had a story to prove that Alaïa always takes the long view. The ‘Indiana’ boot was created by Salvatore Ferragamo in 1925 when this "shoemaker to the stars" was working in California, but it could not have looked more relevant to today.
The same cover-up – modern elegance rather than anything prissy – applied to the clothes, which included a maxi-length python coat and textured dresses that stopped at the same point. Evening dresses were slightly longer, some falling straight, but with inserts of metallic lines to give the effect of glittering pleats.
"It is mostly fabrics with specially created leathers and embroidery and some knitwear, of course, because it is such a tool for creativity," Alaïa explained. "But wool here is treated as a fabric. It is knitted by the metre. And all patterns and shapes were made by me and in my ateliers."
This, of course, is the essence of the Azzedine Alaïa creations. Each one is invented and worked on by the designer himself, as I can testify. I have watched him at work over the years and have learned to appreciate the intensity of his vision and the concentration that is required to turn a concept into clothing.
The pieces that surprised me most in this new collection were the patterned, fluffy coats, as if begging to be stroked. But it was the continuity of the show that was exceptional, in its roll-out of modern looks from start to finish and in the sense that the designer had not changed his vision in all the years I had known him, from a small studio in the rue de Bellechasse on the Left Bank of Paris to his position today with the Richemont company financing a shop on London’s Bond Street.
But however wide Alaïa’s reach, we can be sure that his heart will be in his studio with hands and eyes on every single piece.