Intimacy. Alaïa AW23

Azzedine Alaïa used to present his collections on 7 Rue de Moussy in Paris, the legendary address which wasn’t only the studio and flagship Alaïa store, but also his home. After the shows – or even on regular days – he invited his guests, from friends to models, to his kitchen, where he served his favorite dishes. This feeling of family-like community was fundamental for the designer and his independent brand. For autumn-winter 2023, Pieter Mulier took that notion to heart, and held his latest fashion show in his and his partner’s (Matthieu Blazy, Bottega Veneta’s creative director) apartment in Antwerp. The group of guests was small: a pack of fashion’s finest critics, the brand’s muses (like Tina Kunakey) and Mulier’s friends (think Raf Simons, Gaia Repossi and Dries Van Noten). The 1972 Brutalist landmark home was a fitting backdrop for the designer’s fourth collection for the brand: sophisticated, somber, very Antwerp. With that gesture, Mulier wanted “to share something of who I am” by pulling Alaïa’s culture onto his own territory. “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. 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). 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.” 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. Maybe this collection wasn’t as ferocious and bold as his first line-ups for the brand, but it certainly was the most emotionally-charged.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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