There is a new cook in the Alaïa kitchen. More than three years after the death of Azzedine Alaïa, one of the last great innovative and independent couturiers of the 20th century, a successor has been named to his brand. Pieter Mulier, the Belgian designer who spent almost two decades as the right hand of Raf Simons at Jil Sander, Christian Dior and Calvin Klein, is finally stepping out of the shadows to take his place at the top of a historic house.
He assumes a legacy that includes a fan base stretching from Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga, an aesthetic defined by an obsession with sculpting (though never constricting) the female form, and a philosophy that stubbornly rejected the increasingly corporate fashion system — despite the fact that Alaïa was bought by the Compagnie Financière Richemont, the Swiss conglomerate that owns Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, in 2007.
Indeed, the appointment indicates the ambitions Richemont has in fashion, following the appointment of Gabriela Hearst as the artistic director of Chloé, which the group also owns, as well as the unveiling of the first collection from AZ Factory, the new brand from Alber Elbaz, which is backed by Richemont.
“Through the creative prodigy and tenacious dedication of our dear founder Azzedine Alaïa, our Maison has been defined by a powerful vision of femininity and sensuality, which will forever set us apart,” said Myriam Serrano, the chief executive of Alaïa, in the announcement. “Pieter stands out with remarkable technical talent and devotion to the craft, a sharp eye for construction and a sense of timeless beauty that is deeply ingrained in the creative approach of our Maison. His appointment marks the opening of an important new chapter for our Maison.”
There were suggestions after Mr. Alaïa’s death that the designer was irreplaceable, and since then the brand has released collections based on sketches from his archives as well as previously created designs. (A foundation was created to preserve the designer’s work as well as his myriad collections of vintage couture and furniture.) But the appointment of Mr. Mulier is an acknowledgment of the importance of a designer within a brand.
The move will create ripples throughout the industry, which is in something of an existential crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Everything from the fashion show system to the number of collections to fashion’s role in systemic racism is being questioned now.
In his statement on joining the brand, Mr. Mulier indicated that he shared both Mr. Alaïa’s aesthetic priorities and his oft-stated belief that true creativity needs time to flourish.
“It is an absolute dream to join this prestigious Maison, its beautiful ateliers and its talented team,” he said. “Always ahead of his time and open to all arts and cultures, Azzedine Alaïa’s powerful vision has served as an inspiration, as he always sought to give the necessary time to innovative and enduring creation.”
A graduate of the Brussels Institut Saint-Luc, where he studied architecture, Mr. Mulier spent much of his career by Mr. Simons’s side. Most recently he was global creative director at Calvin Klein, a position he left in 2018 when Mr. Simons parted ways with the brand; before that he was design director at Christian Dior, working closely with the couture atelier.
“It is a sublime move,” said Mr. Simons, currently the co-creative director at Prada, who called Mr. Mulier his “partner” and said he could not be prouder.
“He has been ready for a long time,” Mr. Simons said of Mr. Mulier, speaking by phone from Milan, and occasionally overwhelmed by emotion. “He was a big fan of Azzedine, but he is also fearless.”
Mr. Mulier’s first collection for Alaïa will be for spring-summer 2022.