Fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa, who was known as “The King of Cling” for his form-fitting clothing that accentuated the female body, died on Saturday at the age of 82. Alaïa, who was from the North African country of Tunisia, debuted his first ready-to-wear collection in 1980, and helped champion diversity during a time when there was a lack of diversity in the fashion industry.
He dressed numerous Black celebrities, and even helped a few iconic Black models go from relatively unknown to household names.
During the ‘80s, Alaïa’s designs were seen on the likes of everyone from Naomi Campbell to Grace Jones to Tina Turner, and the designer continued to remain prominent in the fashion industry over the next few decades. Campbell eventually became one of his protégées and even developed a father-daughter relationship with the designer, affectionately calling him “Papa.”
In an interview with The Independent, Campbell revealed how Alaïa helped launch her career. “I didn’t know how to do runway when I started modeling, but he believed in me,” said Campbell. “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.”
Veronica Webb, who became the first Black model to have a major cosmetics contract after signing as Revlon’s spokesmodel, also credited Alaïa with her rise to supermodel stardom. In a Vanity Fair interview, Webb said, “Did he start my career? Are you kidding? Myself, Naomi, Stephanie—he taught us how to use our forks, how to walk, how to take rejection, how to present ourselves. He treated us all like flesh-and-blood children.”
In addition to Campbell and Webb, other former Black models like Bethann Hardison and Pat Cleveland, who started modeling in the 1960s and became known as the first Black supermodel, worked with Alaïa and considered him a friend. They both paid tribute to the late designer.
Rihanna and Mariah Carey also worked with and had close relationships with Alaïa, and they both shared touching tributes to the designer on Instagram.
In Webb’s Instagram tribute, she truly summed up the influence and impact the designer had on the fashion industry, and those who wore his designs: “Azzedine, you will live forever in the hearts and minds of those who love you. The history of fashion is changed for the better because of you.”