Two years ago, Azzedine Alaïa died.
I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't know who he was. Unless you are familiar with the world of fashion, there's no reason you should know his name. He was a designer of women's clothes in the tradition of Dior, Yves St. Laurent, Givenchy, Armani.
He made dresses. Spectacular dresses. But dresses nonetheless.
Great designers, those who work in Paris or Milan, will have two distinct lines of clothing. They make one-of-a-kind dresses that cost extraordinary sums of money. And they make a line of clothing that is ready-to-wear. In French, it sounds classier, prêt-à-porter. Means the same thing.
In ready-to-wear, you do not get a dress that's unique, but the clothing can still be very expensive. A typical price for a ready-to-wear dress by Azzedine Alaïa is around $3000. The one below, a lot more.
Azzedine Alaïa and model
It's very easy to dismiss the world of fashion, especially when it reaches upper heights of richdom. Especially at $3000 a pop. Cue the yearly income of a farmer in Bolivia, which is perhaps half that, probably far less.
But I've always loved fashion, especially high fashion. I've loved looking at the work of Christian Dior, for example. I'm transfixed by his designs. And, more recently, by the work of Emanuel Ungaro.
How can I justify paying more than 20 seconds attention to a business that caters to the rich and the vain? I dress in LL Bean and J. Crew on sale, quite happily. It seems so frivolous.
I justify it because of beauty. No, not the beauty of the women who wear the dresses. The beauty of the dresses themselves. The intricacy of the work, the immaculate detail of it, the creative use of fabric and hue. Dior was a superb craftsman, designer, artist.
Christian Dior, left, and right, with model
There is probably something in your life that you lust for that is very expensive. Lust for--maybe admire, even worship in a way. Is it a Lamborghini? Is it a room at the Ritz in Paris? Is it Beluga Caviar? You'll never purchases these things, but you would if you could. Wouldn't you?
If I'm being honest, the few women I've met who can afford these dresses haven't been very interesting. I generally have found most very wealthy people to be boring. (Expect blowback, but who cares?)
I separate the garment and the craftsmanship, the artistry, from the people who wear it. All you need to do is thumb through the pages of any good book on Dior designs, and if you like beauty, you'll like at least some of his dresses very much. And, yes, I'm with Keats. Beauty is truth. Lies are ugly. And beauty never lies.
It's no coincidence that one of the top ten most-visited exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was the 2011 exhibition of the work of the British designer, Alexander McQueen. I was in Denver over Christmas, and the exhibit, Dior: From Paris to the World, was a smash at the Denver Museum.
So, RIP, Azzedine Alaïa and fellow creators of beauty. We can never have enough of that, in whatever form.