According to Business of Fashion, Alaïa's love of fashion started at a young age through reading issues of Vogue. Born to Tunisian farmers, he lied about his age in order to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis before he moved to Paris and started his career working for Christian Dior. With a wealth of experience, he opened his own atelier in the late '70s.
Alaïa's work defined '80s fashion; his bodycon designs and his precise and structured tailoring led him to the nickname "The King of Cling," and would serve as inspiration for countless designers to come. Alaïa was never one to follow the rules, be it through his creations or in response to the industry's strict demands or scheduling. Instead, he often showed his ready-to-wear and couture collections at a time that best suited him.
His humility, regardless of his continued success, and the high standards he held for himself were just a few of the attributes many remember him by. And despite often only sleeping two hours a night to realize his designs, he frequently hosted dinners at his atelier, The Telegraph reports, cooking for and entertaining some of the world's most influential names.
Among the frequent guests his gatherings was supermodel Naomi Campbell, who not only credits Alaïa for much of her career successes, but considers him to be a dear friend and father figure. In a 1998 interview with the Independent, Campbell says she referred to Alaïa as "Papa," likening their close-knit friendship to a father-daughter relationship. "Azzedine saw something in me and taught me to have confidence. I didn't know how to do runway when I started modeling, but he believed in me," said Campbell, who first met the designer when she was 16-years-old and living in Paris. "That brought attention from other designers, and is kind of how I became known — because other designers heard of this little girl Azzedine was working with."
Campbell is just one of the many high-profile celebrities who considered themselves fans of Alaïa's work; over his nearly 40-year-long career, he created pieces for Cindy Crawford, Michelle Obama, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham, and Tina Turner, among many others. But, it may be thanks to Cher Horowitz, of the '90s cult classic Clueless, that Alaïa became a household name to those outside the fashion industry. In the film, as Horowitz is robbed at gunpoint, she says: "This is an Alaïa...It's like, a totally important designer." And with that, millions knew his name.
Alaïa was quoted having once said: "You have to be honest in your work. You have to stay true to yourself. That’s the best thing." Disliking the words "trend" and "modern," he also described fashion as not being a trend anyone should feel obligated to follow, adding: "When something is good, it’s good."