Alaïa’s Next Chapter

Algerian-born model and former FTA Judge Farida Khelfa reflects on the great Parisian label and on Pieter Mulier’s appointment at its helm

Richemont recently appointed Belgian designer Pieter Mulier as creative director of its label Alaïa. The eponymous label was founded by a man known to be both a creative genius and a maverick. This May will mark four years since the passing of Azzedine Alaïa, the designer who was one of the first creative talents from the MENA region to make a mark in the global fashion arena. The son of wheat farmers, he studied sculpture at the Tunis Institute of Fine Arts and then moved to Paris to pursue a career in fashion, becoming known as the “King of Cling.” Alaïa-moulded dresses were formed to fit a woman’s body like no other. He had a defined aesthetic and also his own unique approach to the industry, producing his first ready-to-wear collection in 1980. His dresses were made to be special investment pieces that were elevated essentials – and he never believed in the idea of seasons. He was quick to understand the power of the supermodels and worked closely with many of them, such as British-African model Naomi Campbell and Algerian-born Farida Khelfa.

The fact it has taken so many years to find a creative successor is a testament to his talent and speaks of his legacy that will no doubt shape the label he founded in years to come. The brand is owned by luxury conglomerate Richemont, who recently announced Mulier’s appointment. At the time of announcement, Azzedine Alaïa’s chief executive Myriam Serrano said: “It is my great pleasure to welcome Pieter into the Alaïa Maison. 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.” Mulier, a design and architecture student has worked closely with Raf Simons, a designer known for his penchant for minimalism. Mulier’s first collection will be for spring/summer 2022.

The news of Mulier’s appointment was welcomed by many of Alaïa’s own inner circle. Among them model and former FTA Judge Farida Khelfa, who was not only a muse to Azzedine Alaïa, but also worked in his design studio in the mid-1990s. Here she speaks about the legacy of Azzedine Alaïa and tells us why Alaïa creations will always be a part of her wardrobe.

Alaïa’s spring/summer 2021 collection

Q Today we speak about seasonless, ageless, inclusive fashion – but these codes were always part of the world of Alaïa. Tell us why he was such a forward thinker.
A Azzedine refused to be imprisoned by the seasonal calendar of fashion. He always said he would show when he was ready to do so and not because of commercial reasons. He did it his way – he was a true free spirit and a forward thinker. This pandemic showed us how right he was, and that there is no need to change your wardrobe every three months.

Q Tell us about your reaction to the news of Pieter Mulier’s appointment.
A I hope Pieter Mulier will respect the codes of the Maison Alaïa and also be creative and innovative. The Maison Alaïa took its time to find a successor to Mr. Alaïa. It was not done in a rush, and I’m confident in this choice.

Q How important was his connection to the Arab world in shaping his vision?
A We were always listening to the music of Umm Kulthum during the fittings very late at night. In the Arab culture of clothing, the use of fabrics is very important, and this is reflected in the maison’s approach to fashion.

Q He had a special relationship with his models. Tell us something about your own experience of working with relationship Alaïa.
A Azzedine was always there for me. He never asked any questions, he was just there at his table cutting at work as he listened to you. To have a friend like him always finding a moment for you was an inestimable gift.

Q What is the legacy of Alaïa, and are you looking forward to this new chapter for his label?
A An Alaïa silhouette is always recognizable. It is the mark of the great couturiers. I have so many outfits that I cherish from Azzedine and am definitely looking forward to buying pieces from Alaïa in the future, as I do now.