As Raf Simons’ right-hand man is appointed Creative Director of the fashion house, critics and fans speculate how he will execute the late founder’s vision.
By Juno Kelly.
Parisian fashion house Alaïa announced this week that Belgian designer Pieter Mulier would assume the position of Creative Director, following the passing of its founder, Azzedine Alaïa, in 2017. Although not quite a household name, Mulier is seasoned in the field, having worked for years as Raf Simons’ right-hand man during his stints at Jil Sander, Dior, Calvin Klein, and Simons’ eponymous brand.
But taking over a storied brand like Alaïa–particularly from its founder–is never easy. When Mulier’s collaborator Raf Simons took over from at Dior in 2012, he faced a daunting legacy. “I don’t want to suggest in any way that I am talented enough to compare myself with Mr. Christian Dior,” Simons admitted in the 2014 documentary Dior and I. As Tom Ford took the reins at Yves Saint Laurent in 1999, Saint Laurent himself assailed, “The poor guy does what he can.”
Those who know Mulier likely recognize him from his jubilant bows alongside Simons following the Calvin Klein runway shows. Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary Dior and I granted viewers a more rounded understanding of Mulier, showing him as the go-between for Simons and the Dior atelier team. In one of the opening sequences, Simons jestingly refers to Mulier as his “wife.” In contrast to the sterner Simons, Mulier comes across as modest and good-natured, traits often mentioned in conjunction with Azzedine Alaïa himself.
Azzedina Alaïa launched what came to be one of Paris’s most revered fashion houses in the late ’70s. The warm, unpretentious Tunisian designer rapidly became known for his kindness amid a notoriously unkind industry. He housed a teenage Naomi Campbell upon her move to Paris, and avoided the fraught web of industry politics. His penchant for framing a woman’s figure just so led fashion circles to brand him “the king of cling”; the designer celebrated the female physique via waist-hugging silhouettes, flattering drapery, and dresses so tight that they oozed sexuality.
Mulier is no stranger to capturing femininity through fashion: it lay at the core of his and Simons’ vision for Dior. “I thought it was a company that represents beauty more than fashion,” recognized Mulier of Dior in a 2015 interview with Another. As Alaïa’s creative director, Mulier remains committed to framing the female anatomy. “It is with a tremendous sense of admiration and responsibility that I will seek to carry forward his legacy of celebrating femininity and to jointly shape the future of this legendary Maison,” Mulier stated in an Instagram post marking his appointment.
Azzedine Alaïa was famed for his refusal to conform to fashion seasons as much as his creative genius. The designer often shunned the fashion week calendar, instead opting to work to his own timeline, showcasing clothes only when he was so inclined. “It wasn’t about, ‘What’s new, what’s new, what’s new.’ It was about, ‘What’s right,’” remarked Donna Karan after Alaïa’s passing.
Mulier, in contrast, is accustomed to obeying the calendar. At both Dior and Calvin Klein, fashion week shows are the alpha and omega, marking when, how, and how long design teams spend on each collection. It remains to be seen whether Mulier will take this philosophy to Alaïa, allowing it to become a hot–reliable ticket–at Paris fashion week, or respect the atelier’s mode of working, showcasing garments solely once he feels they are ready.
Critics and fans (and likely the Alaïa team) are already speculating how reverently Mulier will execute the Alaïa vision, how much he’ll draw from the brand’s archival collection, and what his overall interpretation will be. But we will have to wait until the fall–when Mulier will make his debut at the brand for Spring/Summer 2022 season–to find out. Until then, we wish him luck.