ANTWERP, Belgium — The designer Azzedine Alaïa, who died in 2017, was famous not just for his exacting, unique approach to cloth and the body, but for his hospitality: He lived over his shop, and his industrial-size kitchen was pretty much everyone’s favorite place to eat. Guests who walked in for a preview often ended up staying for a couscous and they were just as likely to be seated next to one of the petites mains from the atelier as they were Kim Kardashian or Pedro Almodóvar.
So when Pieter Mulier, the current creative director of Alaïa, announced he was going to show his next collection for the brand in his home in Antwerp rather than at the Alaïa headquarters in Paris, it was both unexpected — Wasn’t that a little far? And, um, personal? — and made a lot of sense.
After all, if you are going to ask people to share your taste, you have to be willing to really show your taste.
Mr. Mulier did.
Guests, including the Belgian designers Dries Van Noten and Raf Simons, the French actor Vincent Cassel and longtime Alaïa acolytes such as the gallerist Clémence Krzentowski, trekked to Mr. Mulier’s bi-level concrete masterpiece of an apartment at the top of Riverside Tower, a brutalist building designed in 1968 by Léon Stynen and Paul de Meyer. All of Antwerp was spread out below: on one side, the harbor; on the other, the cathedral and the heart of the city.
They perched on benches, chairs, even Mr. Mulier’s bed, as models wound their way up the ramp from one floor to the other, past the kitchen, the home office, a library crammed with books. There was a fire in the fireplace. The clothes were so close, they practically brushed the noses of the approximately 100 attendees.
The seams of a leather skater skirt (black like the leather on Mr. Mulier’s benches and bed) wound around the body, scarified by silver staples (successors to Mr. Alaïa’s trademark silver grommets and spiraling silver zippers). Staples also traced the arms of a lapel-less hourglass jacket that crisscrossed the torso before molding itself down over the hips, and along the sides of a strapless bodysuit. And they spilled down the body of a nude tulle dress.
Alaïa, summer-fall 2023.Credit…Alaïa
Architectural cocoon coats came with sinuous, curving lapels or portrait collars. There were knit velour bandage skirts, trousers that bowed out at the side before narrowing at the ankle and a cropped white shirt turned back to front. At the end, two narrow turtleneck tops exploded into bell-shaped rustling silk skirts — a reference, Mr. Mulier said, to a made-up game he used to play with his mother.
One of the struggles for any designer assuming the helm of a house built by another designer is wrestling with a legacy and how literally it should be taken. Is it about preserving a silhouette and a signature garment (the Bar! the Smoking! the bouclé jacket!) or is it a more abstract set of values like strength, rigor, functionality?
Thus far at Alaïa, Mr. Mulier has erred on the side of the first approach, with mixed results. This time, in the frame of his own home — simultaneously enticing and austere — he began to edge further toward the second.
It wasn’t the reset it could have been. The collection was still more structurally than spiritually Alaïa-esque; more dutifully obedient to the past than Mr. Alaïa ever was. But even though most of these garments were awfully tight, there was room to maneuver.
Afterward there was a dinner in KMSKA, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, which recently reopened after an 11-year renovation that saw a modern structure embedded in the courtyard of the old one (metaphor alert). A group of the models arrived still wearing their outfits from the runway.
As they stalked the two long tables, beneath the gaze of an enormous Rubens oil, they looked as if they never wanted to take them off.