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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Julie Kegels’ Supper Club

I will always be me,” Belgian fashion designer Julie Kegels told 1 Granary. Ever since primary school, she dreamt of joining the fashion department at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp – the city where she was born and raised. The stars aligned, and we’ve got an exciting, emerging fashion designer coming from the famously off-beat, “fifth” fashion capital. Her unconventional approach towards silhouettes, and ability to fuse the media of fashion and art, are distinct in her first, proper collection. The main inspiration from Kegels’s Masters Collection is “The Dinner Party“, the installation by Judy Chicago from 1979, in which the feminist artist set a gigantic, triangular table for 39 women from across history. Each place setting was dedicated to a mythical or world-famous woman that played an essential role in the history of female rights. For every woman, she designed a custom place setting inspired by the story of their life. For her collection, Kegels focused on the twelve of these settings. You can wear each of the silhouettes, but you can lay them on a table for decoration purposes as well. The whole concept was an excellent opportunity to experiment with textiles. “I tried to push the boundaries and create fabrics with a soul like embroidery, hand knits, playful drapes and materials with structure. I vacuumed old lace with a plastic fabric as this created depth in the shape of laceflowers. By creating new fabrics, I discovered that making an old fabric look modern is what I genuinely loved doing during the process of this collection“. The designer continues: “Dressing up for a dinner party has always been a magical experience for me. My line-up is based on a picture of a woman standing in front of the mirror holding a dress. Therefore, every piece in my collection has a different front and back. With these primary elements in mind, I developed the concept.” The final effect is both futuristic and retro; familiar, yet totally unknown. The look-book, photographed by Anton Fayle and art directed by Studio M, transports you to the unique world of Kegels, where nothing is as it seems. Keep Kegels’ work on your radar – and don’t forget to check out her Instagram!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – At Home. Dries Van Noten SS22

We were in, I think, the fifth lockdown here in Antwerp when we started on this collection. And when I talked with my team to discuss what it would be about, it was really about outbursts: We’ve had it, and now we want to have fun, we want to party, we want to enjoy things, we want to go into the city and we want to see people.” So said Dries Van Noten, laying out his manifesto for a sensually hedonistic season while simultaneously echoing the Peter Fonda–sampled intro to Primal Scream’s “Loaded”, the soundtrack to the line-up’s excellent collection video: “We want to be free to do what we want to do!… And we want to get loaded! And we want to have a good time! And that’s what we’re gonna do!” Without inquiring as to whether Van Noten and his team got loaded, they clearly had a blast putting together this lovingly local, energy rush of a collection. That team made a shared folder of smartphone photos taken around the city, from industrially scenic crane landscapes to strobe-lit club shots via moody pool hall milieus, which were integrated as prints on paneled parkas and silky shirts. These images were then accented against a ’70s vintage Antwerp municipal logo and etchings taken (with permission) from two of Flanders’s most famous sons, Breughel and Rubens. The collaged images on the garments were shot against a backdrop of more city locales, to 56 of which Dries and his team dragged a white podium to make the look book. Of them all, the pink-tabarded school trip in look six proved ultimate evidence that these were not scenes just lazily projected in post. Van Noten said his attitude to this collection was: “What is menswear? What is womenswear? Just throw it all together and take what you like.” Conventional dichotomies were rendered attractively void in “womenswear” looks featuring tailored, overlong, and overdyed pants in English mohair over slides, and an awesome “menswear” camo parka and suit in 35 gram silk plongée lined in cotton voile. Geographically specific to Antwerp, but tolerantly nonspecific in terms of the geography of received gender norms, this was a collection that did indeed look great to get loaded in.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Silhouettes. Raf Simons AW21

Raf Simons‘ latest collections are more straightforward and easier in approach – yet they have that elusive spark that makes the designer’s work so attractive. For autumn-winter 2021, Simons stated his simple mission: “The collection is about things I love – things I have always loved, that are always there in every collection, in the processes behind it, and the clothes.” This season, silhouettes loosen and expand, almost magnetically propelling away from the body rather than clinging to it. The quilted A-line coats, some layered with puffy vests, and gigantic mushroom cap knits with strass brooches and dot patterns must be the largest garments he has ever offered. Wearing them with relaxed, gently flared trousers, the models look like atomic clouds, their clothing the electrons circling their forms but never touching them. The best part of big, baggy, enveloping clothing is that it really does look good on everyone.  In addition to the over-sized silhouette, Simons has also vastly expanded the collection of small, wantable things that hover around his garments. Ivory runner boots with a pastel gum heel are back, while a vast range of teenage-looking jewelry – hearts, logos, and dangly rib cage earrings – accompanies the clothing. The funniest baubles must be the skeleton hand bangles, fixed high on models’ arms. What I loved most is the dynamic colour palette – bubble-gum pink, pea-green, plastic-yellow, baby-blue… delightful! Simons chose six words to title this collection: ataraxia, equanimity, dichotomy, synchronicity, allegiance, devotion. Peacefulness is the big story, even amidst the techno-medical disasters of our world. Keeping the balance is always a good idea.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Teenage Dreams. Raf Simons SS21

This season, we’ve had more of Raf Simons than usual – first in his new role at Prada back in September, and now in his name-sake label’s co-ed spring-summer 2021 collection. There are few working designers so vocally obsessed with youth culture as Simons. But the youth Simons seeks to explore isn’t exactly the youth of today – the young people advocating for climate justice, leading protests against police brutality and racism, and volunteering as poll workers. It’s his own youth that interests him. The metadata of his website, where he streamed his spring 2021 film “Teenage Dreams,” reads: “I don’t want to show clothes, I want to show my attitude, my past, present, and future. I use memories and future visions and try to place them in today’s world.” Designers are plumbing their own histories more than ever in this digital and isolated season, but this has always been Simons’s way. The press release for his teen dream collection lists the films that inspired him, many of which he has cited before, from Alien and Alice in Wonderland to Picnic at Hanging Rock and A Nightmare on Elm Street. That’s the totality of Simons’s statements on this collection, which features his first official foray into womenswear at this brand and his first fashion film since his start in the late ’90s, when similarly rakish models loafed about in Belgian photo studios and homes. Back then they smoked ciggys and drank champers and smushed into a single couch. In today’s film they populate in a nuclear floral set by Mark Colle: possessed, crawling on the floor, snatched into a web. As Simons’s youth in revolt slunk around in the film, punctuated by pulsing beats by Senjan Jansen, his signatures came into focus. The silhouette was as slim as ever and there was ample sloganeering and graphics, things his customers old and young adore, as well as photo prints of family members of Raf’s studio team. Raf stans will appreciate the continuity of his long lean silk skirts, colorful turtlenecks with R monograms at the throat, sleeveless tunics, and body-wrapping perspex tops. A big mustard knit, the sort of sweater Simons himself often wears, will be another fan favorite. It’s worn by both a male and female model, proving the point that while this is technically a womenswear debut, female shoppers have long found comfort in Simons’s work.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.