Alaïa’s Pieter Mulier on his costumes for Paris Opera Ballet

Continuing Alaïa’s longtime link with the arts, Pieter Mulier tells the story behind his sensual costumes for Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber’s first Opéra de Paris ballet, ‘Pit’

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‘I want to create clothes that carry this idea of a modern beauty, always in movement,’ Alaïa creative director Pieter Mulier , speaking on his vision for the Parisian maison a year into his tenure (the Belgian designer began his role in 2021, the first named designer after the death of founder and couturier Azzedine Alaïa in 2017). 

Movement, the body, a pursuit of beauty – preoccupations of both Mulier and Azzedine Alaïa in his lifetime – are united in a new collaboration between the house and Paris Opera Ballet on the occasion of Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber’s first work for the company, titled ‘Pit’. 

Trained at the Batsheva Dance Company under Ohad Naharin, United States-born Smith – who has created works for Martha Graham Dance Company and the Royal Danish Ballet, among others – and Israel-born Schraiber – a director, choreographer and actor – call ‘Pit’ a ‘sensual, tribal and dramatic universe’. Played out on a stark, ‘figurative’ show set, it is set to a score which ‘intertwines’ Jean Sibelius’ 1904 ‘Violin Concerto’ with compositions by contemporary musician Celeste Oram.

Opéra de Paris x Alaïa

An Alaïa dress by Pieter Mulier for the ballet ‘Pit’

‘We share a similar obsession with the body. It is the core of our creation,’ says Mulier of the roots of the project. ‘All our gestures are devoted to it, that’s what they told me when they approached me in the first place. Our connection takes place in the body.’

Mulier – who began his career at Antwerp-based Raf Simons, before following the eponymous designer to Dior and Calvin Klein – is a longtime follower of ballet and dance, having first seen ‘Rain’ by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker at Brussels’ La Monnaie over 20 years ago in 2001 (coincidentally, costumes for that performance were created by fellow Belgian designer Dries Van Noten). ‘It was such a shock, a revelation,’ says Mulier of the contemporary work, which provides a response to Steve Reich’s minimal composition ‘Music for 18 Musicians’.

‘But my favourite [ballet] remains ”Le Boléro de Ravel” choreographed by Maurice Béjart and starring Sylvie Guillem,’ he continues. ‘The ballet is like a show. When you create clothes, you always think of the movements of the woman’s body. Her ability to move around in your clothes. They must become a source of freedom – veridical freedom. For ballet, it’s the same idea, but for extreme movements.’

As such, the black-and-white costumes trace the sinuous line of the dancers’ bodies; notably, a series of gowns which hug the torso like a bodice before falling away into diaphanous flared skirts. Mulier calls the effect that of ‘supple armour’, an attempt to ‘enhance, exalt and celebrate… the curves of the bodies, their shapes and their silhouettes’. The various pieces were custom-made to fit the 12 male and 9 female dancers, a demonstration of ‘the skills and savoir-faire of the Alaïa atelier’.

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