Assured And Assertive At Alaïa

This is Pieter Mulier’s most confident and facile collection, yet

Is he presently the only designer working for a house not his own who respects the founder’s aesthetics and silhouettes this closely? Pieter Mulier’s curiously labelled “summer fall 2023 show” for Alaïa was his most confident and most creatively exact since taking over the house in 2021. His tentative moves then was now full strides. This was more than just a whiff of Alaïa; this was redolent. And that definitely was not an unwelcome thing, refreshing even, when many other houses allow their creative directors to slash and burn in order to propagate. The collection was recognisably Alaïa, but with Mr Mulier’s deft minimalist-yet-sexy touch: the elongation and the body-consciousness, and the sculpting. Curves were celebrated, so were technical finesse. It was a familiarity that bred pleasure. There was something sanguine about it too, as if Mr Mulier was saying that he is able to take the house further, to a better place.

This season, Mr Mulier showed his Alaïa collection not in Paris, but in Antwerp, and not in the Alaïa home in the Marais (now the Foundation Azzedine Alaïa), but in his own home in the Belgium port city. Mr Mulier lives in a 1968 brutalist flat designed by the Belgium architects Léon Stynen and Paul de Meyer, best known in their home country for the un-church-like building Saint Rita Church in the city of Harelbeke, completed two years before Mr Mulier’s block was erected. The top-level duplex is in the two-building, 20-storey Riverside Tower, a stone’s throw from the city centre that enjoys a striking view of Antwerp and the River Scheldt on one side and, further away, The North Sea on the other. According to attendees, the show meandered through much of the space—the living room, the dining, the kitchen, and yes, even the bedroom (some guests apparently sat on the bed!). The thing is, Mr Mulier does not live here alone. This wasn’t a space that showed only one person’s possessions and personal taste. It is likely that it also housed the personal affects and collections of Matthieu Blazy, the Bottega Veneta creative director who is Mr Mulier’s life partner (they met while both were working with the now-closed Raf Simons). In attendance were fellow Belgian designers Raf Simons (of course) and Dries van Noten. This was, literally, home ground.

And home is where one is most comfortable. Pieter Mulier’s designs reflected that. It is imaginable how totally absorbing it would be to sit that close to the clothes (unfortunately, like most, we saw them in front of our screen), to witness the fit and how it worked, and how the models might have felt as they moved in pieces that hugged the shoulders and hips, or enveloped the neck and the torso. Most of the outfits covered the body (with the odd crescent cut-out above the derrière in one dress); even the mini-skirts were worn over leggings. Yet, there was nothing prudish about the sum effect. Even the hooded dresses did not look as habit-like as those of the Sisters of Sion order, whose habits had inspired Mr Alaia’s own designs (did the Cathedral of Our Lady, which Mr Mulier could see from his Antwerp flat inspire him?). These would entice Grace Jones, long-time fan of the maison’s slinky, hooded gowns. There were frocks ready for any ball too, voluminous, bell-skirts, even nearly orbicular in one, that were more sumptuous when contrasted with the lean, knit, turtle-necked tops that accompanied them. Elizabeth Holmes, if she were not in jail or had been successful in her attempt to “flee” to Mexico, might find them covetable.

Shapes were key to the looks, too. The trousers with the curved out-seams were especially appealing (there was even a version in the form of denim jeans!). A floor-length coat wrapped like a spring bud. One short jacket had faux fur lapels that were oversized and nearly circular. There was minimal ornamentation on the clothes. Leather—the only fabric given extra treatment—were laser-cut to yield a trellis openwork, and that formed the closest thing to patterned cloth. They became leggings, skirts, even a trenchcoat. When actual embellishments were used, these came in rows of pins that seemed to hold hems together. In the brand’s communique, it said “a humble dressmaker’s pin can become sublime” and that meant using them in rows, like with a bandolier, and they looked especially so when fashioned diagonally on the torso of a bustier or on the side of sleeves. Pieter Mulier might be doing something closer to what he likes and what he is now totally comfortable with, and showing the result in a setting that reflected domestic calm, even bliss, but the whole exercise did not deviate drastically from Azzedine Alaïa at his long-time 19th-century home.

Screen shots (top) and photos: Alaïa