How Pieter Mulier is recalibrating beauty and the body for now
“I want to bring a sexuality back,” says Pieter Mulier, the artistic director of Alaïa. His plain speak mission sounds simple yet when it comes to creating the ingeniously sinuous dresses; the sculptural pyrotechnic tailoring that design genius Azzedine Alaïa excelled at, it takes alchemical magic that goes way beyond a flirtatious cut out or a thigh split hem.
How does one express a sexuality in 2022? Sexy dressing was made taboo in the last decade triggered by the me-too movement and accelerated by the slouchy cover up pandemic years. We wore outsize tailoring, layering, Stepford wife dresses and the actual contours of real bodies remained concealed. Now Mulier, who was Raf Simon’s right-hand man for twenty years working at both Jil Sander, Dior and Calvin Klein and hired by the Richemont owned house four years after Alaïa's death is re-examining, re-calibrating the codes of sexual with an incisive eye on this new era.
What Mulier is embracing in those sheer stretch tube dresses with trompe l’oeil bandeau and bikini heart shapes; in his figure lengthening pin tucked high waisted denims and cowl necked jackets; in the fishtail skirts and midriff tops that star in the Spring collection is our desire to own our own bodies, embrace both vulnerabilities and strengths, and dress the whole mind/body with love (cue Le Coeur bag and heart toed heels); mischievous wit (a dress constructed from belts) and a big slice of pride.
Alaïa is the one couture house that can elevate that sexual mode, indeed art, without falling into the trap of vulgar. There is a strong legacy and extreme depth of design know how within the Alaïa atelier where Mulier employs experts who have worked for the maison for years. Alaïa was a sculptor, a ground-breaking designer’s designer working indefatigably to elevate and beautify women through plays of sheer and opaque, through angular and soft lines and with those legendary knit serpentine dresses that transformed supermodels, first ladies and pop stars alike into goddess like beings.
It is the 1980s – early 90s Alaïa era – think of Farida Khelfa, Monica Bellucci, Grace Jones, and a young Naomi Campbell that Mulier is compelled by and Alaïa's radical reinvention of couture in a time of ladylike modes and Miss Perfect skirt suits. While Alaïa was dressing the honed by Jane Fonda, aerobicized body of the go-getting career girl; Mulier is addressing the energized strong minded and limbed woman of today with ease and lightness.
In the spring collection, discover low buttoning, cocoon backed cotton poplin shirt dresses that burst into a whirl at the knee; silk and wool knitted catsuits with flamenco flares; crimson red lace dresses with a cowl neck, long sleeves, and flurry of marabou feathers at the hem. Mulier, who lives between Paris and Antwerp, considers himself the privileged caretaker of the brand, is nimbly addressing Alaïa's wit and exceptional taste alike. There are a series of hand painted gowns adorned with Picasso’s expressive brushstroke lines that arose from a collaboration with the Picasso Administration. Alaïa was an obsessive collector of art, antiquities (a Coptic head was one of his first finds as a young tailor in Paris) couture, design (Marc Newson, Jean Prouve, Charlotte Perriand included) and the collection is archived underground under the Alaïa HQ in the Marais. What a show the Picasso dress would make at the Venice Biennale?
One would be in good company: a family of new/old friends is gathering around Mulier including Mica Arganaraz, Mona Tougaard, Rhianna, Liya Kibede, Zendaya, Khelfa and Naomi Campbell are all drawn to this designer’s new framing of luxury – one that is rooted in exceptional design and a kinship with women.