At Alaïa, Designer Pieter Mulier Places Magnificence First

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Not too long ago, at a cocktail party in Paris, I used to be speaking with an equipment designer at a significant French style home concerning the trajectory of at the moment’s rising skills. “They’re superb at perform and utility,” she advised me. “However they’ve misplaced all appreciation for magnificence. If you need magnificence in style, overlook it.”

I considered that commentary as I made my approach by the streets of the Marais neighborhood on an unusually balmy March morning to the Azzedine Alaïa Basis. After launching his line within the early Nineteen Eighties, the legendary Tunisian designer constructed a fiercely loyal following by celebrating and adorning the feminine type, endowing girls with an audacious sense of confidence. The connection between magnificence and energy was Alaïa’s raison d’être—he wasn’t known as the “King of Cling” for nothing. His body-conscious designs exaggerated shoulders and cinched waists, emphasizing each curve. A revered determine within the haughty salons of high fashion, he was equally adored by attention-stealing celebrities like Grace Jones and Tina Turner.

Alaïa was as a lot of a radical together with his course of as he was together with his garments. Most style designers are part-time showmen; Alaïa was a full-time artist who let his work do all of the displaying. He famously bucked traits and derided company tradition, usually working late at night time as an previous black and white film performed on tv. Intimacy and connection had been his keys to the surface world. The rigmarole of Style Week was not for him, so he merely introduced his work each time he felt it was completed. He frequently hosted family-style dinners at dwelling with mates, shoppers, and collaborators; fashions corresponding to Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell lovingly known as him “Papa.”

When Alaïa died in 2017, at age 82, after a fall within the courtyard of his dwelling, the model and his loyal staff continued his mission—however the man on the high appeared irreplaceable. Then, in 2021, Richemont, Alaïa’s dad or mum firm, introduced that it had employed a brand new inventive director, a cerebral Belgian designer with a extremely polished CV named Pieter Mulier. After I met Mulier, a good-looking, sharp-faced 42-year-old, the query of whether or not it’s nonetheless attainable to create collections that put magnificence first was instantly laid to relaxation. “We don’t use themes or references to construct collections,” he advised me, holding a cigarette pitched upward between his thumb and index finger, like a stick of graphite. “We don’t have entrepreneurs within the atelier. It’s simply concerning the garments. What we do is easy—lovely, well-made garments. And for me, it’s very contemporary. No one else does that.”

Again within the early 2000s, Mulier was learning structure at Institut Saint-Luc, in Brussels, and, as he readily admits, he knew completely nothing about style. However the famed designer Raf Simons, who on the time was revolutionizing menswear, sat on the jury for senior initiatives and noticed one thing in him. “He gave me his quantity and advised me he’d love for me to come back work for him,” Mulier mentioned. So started one of the crucial profitable mentor-mentee relationships in latest style historical past. Mulier began out at Simons’s eponymous model and have become a relentless presence at his aspect, shifting with him as Simons landed the highest job at Jil Sander in 2005, after which continued on to Christian Dior in 2012. “As Raf’s profession grew, so did my schooling,” Mulier mentioned. “I went from menswear to equipment to womenswear to couture…after which lastly to Calvin.” Simons’s tenure at Calvin Klein in New York started in 2016, and was as exhilarating because it was bumpy—probably as a result of the all-American monolith had by no means been helmed by a European conceptualist. Mulier served as the corporate’s world inventive director, which meant he oversaw all Calvin Klein strains, from males’s and ladies’s to the numerous offshoots and licenses around the globe—golf, denims, underwear, and extra.

Mulier’s function at Calvin Klein was extra business and market-driven than something he’d beforehand skilled. The workload was intense, and usually consisted extra of conferences than designing. “Speaking, speaking, speaking, giving power,” Mulier mentioned. Each weekend, he would fly to Amsterdam to the touch base with the corporate’s European workplace. Luckily, Mulier’s longtime boyfriend, the French designer Matthieu Blazy, was additionally working at Calvin Klein, and in New York the couple managed to construct one thing of an actual dwelling. They even adopted a Labrador-Pointer combine and named him John John, in homage to John F. Kennedy Jr. However the writing was quickly on the wall for Simons, whose collections, although properly reviewed, by no means totally aligned with the Calvin Klein ethos. Mulier acknowledges that when the experiment got here to an finish, he was each dissatisfied and relieved. “I used to be fired the day earlier than Christmas,” he recalled. “I used to be about to get on a airplane to see my dad and mom after I heard the information. However, in fact, Matthieu misplaced his job on the identical time, so we may share that collectively—very romantic.” Nonetheless, the stint at Calvin Klein, although fraught, wasn’t a unfavourable expertise for Mulier. He discovered loads concerning the enterprise of style and recognized the sort of inventive environments that did and didn’t swimsuit him. He and Blazy moved again to Antwerp, the place they personal a penthouse with an enormous rooftop backyard. For a very long time, Mulier wasn’t sure that he even had a future in style. “I assumed perhaps I’d return to structure or furnishings design,” he mentioned. Lastly, in February 2020, the cellphone rang. (It additionally rang for Blazy, who’s now the inventive director of Bottega Veneta.)

Mulier spent practically a yr auditioning for the Alaïa function. He designed a handful of check collections, drove from Antwerp to Paris in the course of the top of the pandemic to fulfill with Richemont executives, and promised them he would settle for no different provides till they made their resolution. “I needed it,” he mentioned. It’s straightforward to see why. If Calvin Klein signified style at its most business, Alaïa was a return to bespoke artistry. “I knew that the primary few collections wanted to clarify the home’s DNA to youthful generations,” he mentioned. “However on the identical time, it ought to at all times keep primarily based on what Azzedine did.”

What Azzedine did is tough to duplicate. He was a grasp patternmaker who draped his designs instantly on the our bodies of stay fashions, which isn’t how most designers at the moment function. Fortunately, all 35 members of Alaïa’s atelier stayed on, and now Mulier spends most of his days working aspect by aspect with them, assembling collections look by look, counting on intestine intuition and imaginative and prescient, with out turning to stylists, influencers, or company bigwigs to find out the model’s route. If one thing doesn’t work, it goes; if it isn’t prepared but, it holds for the subsequent season. Mulier’s first present, final July, staged proper outdoors the maison’s doorways on Rue de Moussy, was an schooling in all issues Alaïa—hourglass figures, stretch-knit robes, sharp tailoring, hooded blouses. His most up-to-date assortment, proven this previous January, featured lacy bodysuits, ruffled clothes that went all the way down to the ankle, and turtleneck odes to Picasso that coated half the face. Each exhibits obtained close to unanimous reward—together with, notably, from die-hard Alaïa followers of yore.

But Mulier’s goal isn’t merely to suit into the late maestro’s sneakers. One in every of his ambitions is to show the label from “a secret that everybody knew” right into a extra expansive model. “Alaïa’s following was like a personal membership,” Mulier mentioned. “Now it’s time for the identify to develop.” This technique contains making the home extra egalitarian, much less invitation-only. Mulier has opened the road to bigger sizes and has eradicated the elitism of getting to ring a bell to be admitted into the shops. However his contact is, in fact, most evident within the designs. Simply as he discovered to suppose like Simons with out sacrificing his personal aesthetic, he’s now showcasing home signatures up to date together with his personal idiosyncratic knack for structure, equipment, layering, and intelligent proportions.

However maybe essentially the most important distinction between Mulier’s imaginative and prescient and Alaïa’s comes all the way down to the definition of magnificence itself. Alaïa’s creations—onerous on the surface, concealing delicacy inside—had been the ne plus extremely wardrobe in the course of the heyday of the larger-than-life female preferrred of the glamazon. The reticent Alaïa, who stood simply over 5 toes, surrounded himself with very tall, voluptuous girls, as if to underscore the significance of physicality in projecting confidence. “It’s an excellent time for Alaïa culturally, by way of physique consciousness and the celebration of sexuality,” Mulier mentioned. However he’s updating his predecessor’s very particular sense of feminine empowerment. On the point out of glamazons, Mulier says, “We don’t use that time period anymore, because it alludes to a perfection of physique and thoughts. And perfection, for me, just isn’t engaging…or sexual. Alaïa nonetheless talks to a strong lady, however she will get her energy by accepting her imperfections. There may be nothing extra engaging than that.” Mulier retains the boldness of the physique entrance and middle, however he additionally provides beneficiant doses of softness, asymmetry, playfulness, and fluidity. His garments are much less of a protect, and really feel freer and extra open to alter. It’s no shock that some celebrities who’ve been main the cost in the case of evolving notions of magnificence have already embraced Mulier’s aesthetic. This previous February, a pregnant Rihanna was noticed sporting a purple leather-based hooded Alaïa costume coat.

As we speak, Mulier’s former mentor Simons is designing at Prada. Regardless of not working collectively, the 2 stay fairly shut. Mulier says Simons is “like household,” and so they speak each week—however not about style. That topic additionally tends to be off-limits at dwelling, given Blazy’s personal success and hectic schedule at Bottega Veneta. Mulier spends his workweek in Paris, whereas Blazy is in Milan, leaving the weekend for the couple to reunite in Antwerp. Like most of us, they stay a little bit extra quietly than they did earlier than the pandemic—gardening, inviting mates over, and cooking, which is Mulier’s explicit ardour. All in all, Mulier at the moment has the life—and job—of his goals. “Alaïa represents the whole lot that’s nonetheless good in style,” he mentioned, stating how a lot he loves that the garments are usually handed down from mom to daughter. “Alaïa is small. It’s human. It isn’t about the whole lot we witness as style these days. Alaïa garments are ceaselessly, not for a season.”

Pieter Mulier, together with his canine, John John. Portrait by Pierre Debusschere.

Hair by Virginie Moreira for Oribe at MA+ World Group; make-up by Daniel Sallstrom for Shiseido at MA+ World Group; manicure by Ama Quashie for Dr. Barbara Sturm at Streeters. Mannequin: Raquel Zimmermann at DNA Fashions. Casting by Anita Bitton.

Produced by Holmes Manufacturing; government producer: Laura Holmes; producer: Suzy Patten; manufacturing supervisor: Lily Breuer; manufacturing coordinator: Jeremy Rwakasiisi; picture assistants: Felix TW, Valdrin Rexhepi; digital technician: Paul Allister; retouching: Dtouch London; style assistants: Margherita Alaimo, Andrew Burling; manufacturing assistant: Marvin King-George; hair assistant: Shahiyan Mason; make-up assistant: Charlie Murray; set assistant: Axel Drury; tailor: Birute Kelminskiene.

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