In a sea of fast fashion: increasing seasons, multiplying looming deadlines and huge fashion show productions, one designer has ignored it all and kept true to himself, true to his work and carried on doing things just the way he wants to - slowly, softly, consistently and in his own time.
Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaia, a well-known face in the 80s and favourite of the supermodels of that era, became almost reclusive after the death of his beloved sister in the mid 90s and stopped showing his collections, save to a select few in his studio each season. Yet as Alaia returns to the catwalk for the first time in two decades tomorrow - this time during Couture fashion week - the fashion industry is as excited as ever. The king of fashion still reigns supreme.
Not afraid to raise his voice, in recent years he has very openly bemoaned the fast pace of fashion, the endless new seasons added into the schedule, the throw-away attitude of the consumer and the market that is pushing them to behave this way. He's spoken out very publicly about other designers who he believes give fuel to the fire of this ever-burning merry-go-round and he's even unflinchingly spoken out about his lack of need of support from editors such as Anna Wintour.
But despite the lack of promotion he does for his collections each season, and unabashed opinions on the rest of the industry, still to this day he remains a name that everyone in fashion waits with baited breath to see what he will create next. And while many outside of the industry have never heard of him, his tightly distributed collections still ensure a huge yearly turnover for his privately owned business.
While couture fashion week used to be something limited to those well-heeled couture clients, now many of the big editors attend and shoot the collections. But it is still a low-key affair with only a handful of designers showing during the week (some well known houses such as Christian Dior, Valentino and Jean Paul Gaultier; others less so - Stephane Rolland, Christophe Josse for example). There are in fact less than 25 shows in total during the week and Azzedine Alaia is the only designer to show on the very last day. Couture fashion week is something of a traditional event rather than a public one, and so his return to the catwalk during couture is a fitting one - a week that celebrates the actual craft of fashion design itself.
It is really a testament to his aesthetic and the man himself that while Alaia has never given in to the globalization of fashion-pushing - there is no it-bag or it-shoe (although each item could ordinarily hold its own as one); he doesn't do perfume licenses and he barely publicises his seasonal collections - business is still booming.
This is no doubt down to his distinctive and immediately recognizable aesthetic. He designs for a woman's body, his starting point in art and design was actually as a sculptor and with this in mind his style is all the more visceral. His creations are beautiful, sexy yet intricate - he has worked with the same knitwear factory for over 30 years, each season experimenting with new techniques. But buy something from today and you can wear it for years to come. If you were lucky enough to buy something from his collection in the 80s, you could wear it this week.
His creations satisfy an almost unachievable equation, managing to keep collections fashion forward and desirable yet not irrelevant the following season - something of a magical quality. And even at his unflinching prices, his customers stay loyal.
These qualities and underlying principles are something I truly believe in when it comes to making product. Quality and desirability do not have to obstruct the nature of something being long lasting in a fashion sense. And this is something I try to hold true to when I am designing both eyewear and swimwear for my company PRISM.
And while many a high street store (and I am not admonishing all product from such stores as I, like anyone else, occasionally dip in to buy from them) will encourage an endless trail of cheap purchases to have and hold for a month or two and move onto the next cheap purchase - it is refreshing to buy, own, produce, design, want, pieces that fly in the face of this idea and encourage a consumer to buy something they'll want to keep, they'll want to wear for longer than a season and that they'll actually find more pleasure in, than simply the new.
My first eyewear collection for example, the now titled Classic Collection, we in fact still sell well. I feel that the colours and shapes are still relevant two years later and so do many of my customers.
But everything I design, I try to design with three qualities in mind: desirability, functionality and durability (aesthetically and functionally speaking). These should be classics that you are excited about wearing today and will be excited about wearing in two years to come.
Yes fashion can be fast, and it must evolve, but it doesn't always need to be throw-away