By the time the refreshed Palais Galliera, Paris’ musée de la mode, opened its doors at 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening, a line was already snaking down the block. Even the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, turned up early for a preview of Azzedine Alaïa’s first Parisian retrospective, which opens to the public on Saturday. Marveling at the iconic wool-and-crocodile coat, the mayor exclaimed, “Ça, c'est la classe!” (“Now, that’s class!”)

The man of the hour was receiving visitors and basking in the adoration, but he kept his usual laconic composure. Asked how it felt to see his work arrayed, he simply smiled politely. But he didn’t lack for acolytes to sing his praises. Naomi Campbell was misty-eyed even before she set foot inside the museum. “This is going to be like seeing a timeline of my entire life. I think I’m going to cry,” she said. “I am so proud of Papa. He’s done so much [to glorify] women’s bodies. There aren’t accolades enough for Azzedine Alaïa.”

“The word sexy is not savage enough when it comes to Alaïa. We need a new word,” added the Musée Galliera’s director, Olivier Saillard, who curated the exhibition. “He is like a plastic surgeon, but with scissors. It’s an incredible body of work. Only a truly great designer can get away with repeating himself for forty years. Owning an Alaïa is like having an Hermès bag. You transmit it from one generation to the next.” Ellen von Unwerth concurred, fondly describing her Alaïa zip-front jumpsuit: “It was quite daring at the time, but after twenty years, it’s in perfect condition and it still looks fantastic. My daughter took it from me.”

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