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Fashion legend Azzedine Alaïa has a Belgian successor

Three years after his death, Azzedine Alaïa has a successor: the Belgian designer Pieter Mulier, disciple of Raf Simons. Who was Alaïa and what does he represent in 2021?

Azzedine Alaïa began her fashion career on a false start. At 44, the Tunisian was tasked with designing his first collection for the French shoemaker Charles Jourdan who, after seeing the results, sent him back on the spot. It was then that Alaïa decided to launch her own fashion label.

Born February 26, 1935, Alaïa grew up in Tunis. He is a year older than Yves Saint Laurent, who spent his childhood in Oran, French Algeria. Unlike the Saint Laurent, Alaïa’s family was of humble origins. His father was a farmer. He is raised largely by his grandmother, along with his twin sister Hafida and younger brother. He loves drawing and cinema and, at the age of 15, he enrolled against his father’s wishes in art school. He will obtain his diploma as a sculptor at the Fine Arts of Tunis.

In 1957, Alaïa sewed labels on clothes at Dior, but for lack of papers, he was made redundant.

In order to earn some money, he works for a designer. As he did not have the basics of the trade, it was his sister who gave him a crash course in sewing, which allowed him to make copies of Dior and Balmain dresses for the local bourgeoisie.

In 1957, he left for Paris, where he worked for Christian Dior for a few days (the designer had just died): he sewed labels on clothes, but for lack of papers, he was made redundant. Alaïa spent the next two decades working in the shadows. He will not found his fashion house until 1979.

Azzedine Alaïa with her two Yorkshires Patapouf and Wabo, in the streets of Paris in 1986. At her side, the model Frédérique: she wears a leather creation from Alaïa.
© 1986 Conde Nast / Getty Images

Alaïa understood the body

“I never went to fashion school,” Alaïa testified. “I dressed women directly over their bodies and in this I just followed my intuition.” The creator relied on construction and architecture. Often referred to as a sculptor of the female body (which is not surprising given his training), he used perforated leather, lycra and tulle to sublimate it.

The dress that Tina Turner wears on the cover of “Private Dancer” is signed Alaïa.

“I am fascinated by the body and particularly by the fall of the kidneys and the buttocks, which are often more interesting than the chest.” Likewise, he was obsessed with the structure of clothing. Alaïa was a perfectionist: everything had to be extremely precise.

Alaïa dressed Greta Garbo

Alaïa has dressed actresses Arletty, Claudette Colbert and Greta Garbo, Crazy Horse dancers, singers Grace Jones, Tina Turner (the dress on the cover of “Private Dancer” is his) and Lady Gaga. He also participated in the genesis of the phenomenon of top models at the end of the 80s. Naomi Campbell, who met him when she was 16, called him “daddy.”

Alaïa had a limited palette – black, white, brown and beige – which highlighted her sculptural cuts.
© Marleen Daniëls

Alaïa rarely took vacations. He received guests day and night in the semi-industrial kitchen of his headquarters on rue de Moussy, decorated by the artist Julian Schnabel. He usually made giant couscous himself: the kitchen was his scene. At the end of his life, success helping, even the Kardashians were invited.

If Alaïa had a lot of friends, he also had a few enemies. He had no patience for Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of the US edition of Vogue magazine. Karl Lagerfeld, whom he had known since the 1950s, was a charlatan to him. “I don’t like his fashion, his wit and his attitude. It’s too cartoonish. Karl Lagerfeld has never touched a pair of scissors in his life.”

Azzedine Alaïa was not interested in trends. Her clothes are timeless.

Lagerfeld wasn’t a fan of Alaïa either. “He hated me,” he said shortly after Alaïa’s death. “I have nothing against him, although at the end of his career he was only making ballerinas for menopausal fashion victims.” Draw.

Alaïa took her time

Alaïa surrounded himself with a team of loyal collaborators, who formed a kind of family, but he also liked to work alone, often until late at night. He was fascinated by time (as recounted in his posthumously published book “Take the Time”) and never rushed. About a year before his death, he was seen walking quietly in the men’s section of the Le Bon Marché department store, where the sales had just started.

Alaïa rarely followed the official parade calendar and only presented her collections when she was ready. The international press and buyers were rarely in Paris at this time, but it didn’t matter. He found the idea of ​​a fashion week inhuman, because there was no time to have a decent meal between shows or to digest the different collections. He wasn’t interested in trends. Her clothes are timeless.

Naomi Campbell in Alaïa (1991)

In 2017, for the first time after six years, he will return to the haute couture calendar and present his parade during fashion week. An event without invitations: all guests must line up in front of the porte cochere of their headquarters and have their name checked off a list.

With the exception of Naomi Campbell, the parade isn’t particularly spectacular, as the show is in the clothes. On the other hand, it will be the last show of the creator: he died four months later, in November 2017, of a heart attack.

After the couturier’s death, the Alaïa house offered collections based on existing sketches, such as this summer silhouette.

Alaïa had the eye

Azzedine Alaïa became world famous in the 80s. But when he lost his twin sister in the mid-90s, he took a step back. He continues to work, but without arousing the interest of the public. At that time, it was already a myth of the fashion world.

In 2000, he sold his business to Prada. The Italian label was trying to transform itself into a luxury conglomerate and, to this end, had also acquired Jil Sander and Helmut Lang. After seven successful years, Alaïa can buy back her house with the support of the Richemont Financial Company, the Swiss company that owns Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Chloé. The luxury group has largely left Alaïa to work as she pleases. The brand has opened flagship stores in Paris and London, and launched a fragrance.

Otherwise, not much has changed: Alaïa stubbornly continued to follow the path he had blazed for. After his death, his family of loyal collaborators continued in the same vein, with designs based on archival sketches and reissues of classics.

Pieter Mulier, the successor

Three years after her death, Alaïa has finally found an artistic director to suit her. The idea has undoubtedly ended up winning: you cannot keep an artificially alive label indefinitely. Pieter Mulier is therefore responsible for giving it a new lease of life. Belgian designer had until now worked in the shadow of Raf Simons. He was his right hand with Jil Sander and Dior. He was also global creative director at Calvin Klein, still under the direction of the Belgian designer.

Belgian Peter Mulier will take up the story of the Alaïa house.
© Pierre Debusschere 2021

“Pieter stands out for his remarkable technical talent and dedication,” said Alaïa Paris CEO Myriam Serrano. “He has a strong sense of construction and timeless beauty.”

For his part, Mulier declared: “It is an absolute dream to join this prestigious house, its magnificent workshops and its talented team. Always ahead of her time, Azzedine Alaïa has given free rein to her vision and always given the necessary time to create a creation that is both innovative and sustainable. “

Mulier’s first collection for Alaïa should be in stores at the start of 2022.

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