Alaïa Fall 2023 Ready-to-Wear
It was a bold and personal act for Pieter Mulier to invite a small crowd to his apartment in Antwerp to see his fourth Alaïa collection. There we were, sitting on Mulier’s furniture, and some benches he’d hired, in the spectacular triplex at the top of the Riverside Tower, the 1972 Brutalist landmark home he shares with his partner Matthieu Blazy. The window-wrapped concrete space produces the sensational feeling of hovering peacefully over its panorama of the old city of Antwerp, its wide river, and Belgium stretching far, far into the distance.
Why would a designer want to open himself to making such an hospitable, potentially vulnerable step? “My therapist made me do it,” he’d remarked—possibly not joking—in his welcome speech at the post-show dinner at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. Whatever his counsel may’ve said, here was Mulier wanting “to share something of who I am” by pulling Alaïa’s culture onto his own territory.
It was a nuanced thing, this invitation: a gesture of Mulier asserting his own design personality in one way, but also mirroring Azzedine’s practice of working, showing, and entertaining in his house. Add onto this, the fact that Alaïa was renowned for blocking out the noise and nonsense of Paris fashion and only worked with people he liked. Given the times we live in now, there was something apt, congruent—yet simultaneously coolly sensational—in Mulier’s decision to show almost privately.
“It’s actually very simple. I didn’t want to do a big show—I didn’t want cold, distant glamour. I want to do something very intimate, small as Azzedine liked it,” he explained in a separate conversation. His models had performed their long-leggedy Alaïa strides around his apartment in a collection that showed, in close-up, how the clothes fit to the body (rounded in the shoulder, wrapped, draped) and even how they sounded, like papery cotton as they rustled past.
The architecture, and the quality of the Flemish light has an effect on how Mulier sees and shapes his design, he said. “We work here on the beginning of every collection on the ground floor studio with the Alaïa team”, he revealed. “When I start, I always work in the kitchen. And when I’m in the kitchen, I look up to the cathedral, over there.” His comment rested as an almost spiritual metaphor for his personal task of being himself, while also revering the late, worshipped designer.
The conversation with his surroundings began a pursuit of a sculpted roundness, he said. “In our house, everything is geometric. In Alaia, everything is about the two extremes of masculine and feminine, and basically our house is very masculine. You put a feminine silhouette in it and it changes completely. Everything was sculpted on the body so everything is round; all the drapes are cut in circles.”
Rounded shoulders, sculpted torso, narrowed hips, elongated silhouette: the beginning, in dense immaculately-fitted dark brown jersey, introduced it. There were bodysuits, jackets, bustiers, and flipped-out skating skirts. Eyes zoomed in to figure out the lines of glinting silver that were running down the backs of sleeves and undulating over hips. They were conceptual ‘pins’—part homage to the dressmaking and fitting process, part perverse play on piercing; sharpness versus softness. Also a nod to a dress Alaïa once made.
But where was the Belgian identity of Mulier beginning to be apparent? “The tailoring is very minimal. I told the team, I want it to be as minimal as possible, with the maximum effect. But it needs to be sensual, where all the drapes are circles,” he said. “There’s a white dress where we just cut it, draped, attached it—and that was it. So on that level it’s very Antwerp.Very simple.”
The white dress, with its scarf over the head, serendipitously evoked the drape of the North African hoods Alaïa often referenced. But there was surely the hint of other Belgian street vibes going on. There was another kind of bomber-hoodie and a distinct echo of an army-surplus parka; then, Mulier’s choice of faded denim rather than Alaïa’s classic rigid version.
Moving toward evening, Mulier’s drapes in black cotton were whipped around the body in a dynamic caught between sophistication and romance. Back views mattered: one dress had a low-down half-moon cutout that reverbed sexily from the showstopper Mulier sent out last season.
He is not one to rush, but nevertheless, in his logical, emotional Belgian manner of doing things, Mulier is gradually putting his own stamp on the brand. Which he absolutely should. Endlessly checking every line to make sure it complies with the regulations of the keepers of the Azzedine flame could eventually quench a young designer’s creative energy. At the end, he stepped beyond it, with some modern ball skirts worn over bodystocking turtlenecks. It looked like an experimental move forward.