French-Tunisian designer Alaïa dies aged 77

The diminuitive designer’s work was popular across the world

Azzedine Alaïa, the French-Tunisian high-fashion designer often credited with creating pencil skirts and black underwear for the masses, has died aged 77.

His death was confirmed by the Federation of Haute Couture and Fashion (la Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode) on Saturday November 18, reported French newspaper Le Monde.

Having become well-known in the 1980s, Alaïa was known for pushing boundaries and doing things his own way, choosing to host fashion shows and new collections on his own schedule, away from the traditionally-frenetic “fashion weeks”.

He trained at the Beaux-Arts in Tunis, before coming to work for Dior and Guy Laroche in Paris, in the 1950s.

Later, his clothes would be described as being “created in three dimensions”, and hailed for their ability to positively show off the female form on the catwalks but also for “prêt-à-porter” (ready-to-wear/off-the-hanger). He would later be dubbed "the king of cling", and commended for his work with women of colour.

As well as the pencil skirt - with its revolutionary back zip design - and black underwear, he was also credited with popularising leotards for women,  which could be worn with skirts or trousers as part of an everyday wardrobe.

The designer’s work was popular across the world, and he famously dressed flamboyant artist Grace Jones in the late 80s, as well as model Naomi Campbell, and pop artists Mariah Carey, and Lady Gaga in more recet years. In the year 2000, he began working with iconic brand Prada, but was said to continue working just as he always had regardless; designing late into the night, with old films playing in the background.

He was also immortalised in the smash hit US film, Clueless, when the main character, Cher, complains bitterly about being made to lie on the ground, because her dress “an Alaïa!”.

Despite the popularity of his designs, however, Alaïa was a very small man, and described as quiet and discreet, and shunning excess publicity. His fashion shows were often small affairs that took place at his workshop in the Marais, Paris.

Peers of the designer have paid homage to him after his death, including couturier Pierre Cardin who said, speaking to Le Monde: “This is a huge talent that has left us. I knew him for his work, and this is very sad news.”

Jack Lang, former minister of culture and president of the Institute of the Arab World (l'Institut du monde arabe), added: “Azzedine knew more than anyone how to dress women. He loved them, and they, in return, offered him infinite admiration. He was a magician of design and scissors.”

Many well-known stars - including Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, and Victoria Beckham - have also offered their memories of and condolences to the designer across social networking sites Twitter and Instagram.

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