Azzedine Alaïa was born in southern Tunisia in about 1940 to a farming family descended from Spanish Arabic stock. He was brought up by his maternal grandparents in Tunis and, at the age of fifteen, enrolled at l'École des beaux-arts de Tunis to study sculpture. However, his interest in form soon diverted him toward fashion. Alaïa's career started with a part-time job finishing hems (assisted at first by his sister, who also studied fashion). He became a dressmaker's assistant, helping to copy couture gowns by such Parisian couturiers as Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, and Cristóbal Balenciaga for wealthy Tunisian clients; these luxurious and refined creations set a standard for excellence that Alaïa has emulated ever since.