French-Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaia's dresses have been worn by first ladies and top models, but they have never fit better than in Rome, where they are on show in an exhibit that blends sculpture with couture.
The "Couture/Sculpture" exhibition at the Italian capital's Villa Borghese "is not a fashion exhibition, but rather an exhibition about sculpture, and more precisely about statues," gallery director Anna Coliva told reporters.
The body-skimming, feminine garments on display seem perfectly at home off the runway, resting among Berninis and other classical masterpieces.
The designer's aim was to "make soft sculptures from a material that's different from bronze or marble: from cloth", Coliva added.
Mysterious, long monochrome robes float in the Villa Borghese's opulent halls, standing out among the marble sculptures and classical paintings.
Alaia selected each golden, grey, black or yellow gown to match the main colour in the paintings around it, making the exhibition about all the works together, not just his own.
Fitted onto barely-there, see-through or dark-coloured mannequins that give the garments shape but attract no attention to themselves, the dresses and their rich fabrics come alive with the artworks that surround them.
Despite the challenge that the exhibit poses, Alaia slipped right in, said exhibition curator Mark Wilson from the Netherlands, describing him as more of a "classical artist" than a fashion guru.
This is not the first time the gallery blurs the lines between history and modernity.
"As a changing entity, the gallery tries to adopt a new form with every exhibition, its own story trying to catch up with the modern world," organisers said.
Alaia, whose army of devotees has spared him the need for runway shows, draws very little, preferring to drape and cut his clothes himself, late into the night.
A coy man, Alaia shot to fame in the 1980s with his clingy, glamourous creations adored by fashionistas and celebrities from all walks -- including the likes of Michelle Obama, Naomi Campbell and Lady Gaga.
The exhibition is open to the public until October 25.