Pieter Mulier - who has worked alongside Raf Simons since the early 2000s, including as his right-hand man at Jil Sander, Dior and Calvin Klein - had his own moment in the spotlight in February when he became creative director at Alaïa - a position he describes as like “winning the lottery”.
Mulier left PVH subsidiary Calvin Klein in 2018 following Simons' departure and subsequently took time off from the industry, with no certainty on whether he would return to fashion.
On a panel at Fashion Talks in Antwerp on Thursday, the designer shed light on his appointment at Alaïa, how he took on the legacy, and the differences he perceives in this position compared to previous ones.
After Calvin Klein, he says he had a “fashion burnout” and no longer felt inspired. The fashion house Alaïa, which belongs to Swiss luxury group Richemont, gave him the chance to step out of Simons' shadow and into the creative spotlight.
Sharing Alaïa's heritage with the world
As the first step in his journey, Mulier asked industry outsiders what they knew about Alaïa. His family and friends knew little about the brand, which made him - a fan of Alaïa since he was 18 - ask himself what direction he wanted to take with the fashion house. Should he apply his own vision to it, or should he “look at it more as a work of art”, as Azzedine Alaïa did. He decided to follow in the founder's footsteps while communicating Alaïa's work to people unfamiliar with it - including, in particular, a younger demographic.
“I see my job as looking after the house, and I don't think I'm important to the whole story. The name is much more important [...],” Mulier said at Fashion Talks.
The road to becoming creative director
Alaïa called Mulier a year before he was appointed, the design director said. That gave Mulier time to do research and really think about the role. At the time, he thought he knew the fashion house well. But he wanted to expand his knowledge, and began buying vintage pieces from the 70s, 80s and 90s - a period of the founder's life he wasn't as familiar with.
“I bought, bought and bought. I was so happy every morning when FedEx came,” he said. Every garment was a surprise. Each find confirmed to him he needed to accept the position.
New chapter at Alaïa
Simons and Mulier, who arrived at Calvin Klein in New York from the French couture house Dior in Paris, were met with success in America, but there were drawbacks. Mulier said: “I was disgusted by the quantity of products we were vomiting out, constantly, 16 times a year. [...] At some point, I started asking myself: who buys all this?”
At Alaïa, Mulier perceives the opposite. He knows who the customer is and who he is addressing with his creations. At Calvin Klein, he had to work with 300 to 400 people; at Alaïa, the team he works with is much smaller, and everything goes through his hand. There is no merchandiser or marketing director and “only two collections” a year. The focus is on the values of “humanity, respect and beauty”. This overall package seems to have brought Mulier back his creativity and joy in fashion.