Pieter Mulier: Raf's Right Hand Man at Dior
Text： Kin Woo
One of the most memorable moments in Dior and I, Frédéric Tcheng’s revelatory new documentary on the intense eight weeks leading up to the showing of Raf Simons’s first couture collection for the house in spring 2012 – comes not from Simons at all but his right hand man and studio director, Pieter Mulier. Mulier is depicted indulging in some light flirting with both Florence Chehet, the première for the atelier flou and Monique Bailly, the première of the atelier tailleur. They coo over a pair of trousers he’s wearing and look visibly deflated when they learn he has a boyfriend. Mulier winces slightly when reminded of this, “That was a scene that I thought, 'Umm maybe not necessary!' But my mother saw it and said it was really funny.” Emerging as the secret breakout star of the movie, much like Grace Coddington did in The September Issue, perhaps what that scene illustrates is how vital Mulier is at Dior, acting as an intermediary between Simons and the atelier. Still he protests, “But it’s not really flirting, it’s more charm, you need to charm them a little bit, in a very respectful and honest way, to get this motor running, because it’s a really big engine. It’s 250 women and men preparing the collection in a very short time so a little bit of charm goes a long way.”
On working with Raf...
In person, Mulier is as magnetic as he is on screen – chiselled and elegant but with an impish sense of humour. Growing up in Belgium, Dior was to a teenage Mulier, “the biggest company in the world, and one of the most beautiful. My grandmother used to wear Dior, so I knew a little bit. I thought it was a company that represents beauty more than fashion.” After studying architecture at Belgium’s Royal Academy, he was invited by Simons to do an internship at his own label before returning in 2002 to work with him full time. “It evolved from being colleagues to a friendship now. I always think it’s like a ping pong game. He taught me a lot about art – you know his references are a lot of art and architecture – and luckily this is also my background so this helps and I think it works in both ways.”
On making the jump to womenswear at Dior...
While Dior would represent the first time he worked in womenswear after 10 years at Raf and a 4 year stint at Jil Sander as director of accessories, Mulier jumped at the chance. “I was always dreaming of working at an atelier. So when they asked me I said yes immediately, because it’s the most beautiful workroom in the world and it’s the only place that still does couture as it was done in the 40s and 50s. And I love the sense of family. Everybody knows each other here.” Looking at the archives would also prove his instincts right: “People always think that Dior is more dresses but when you go into the archive, it’s actually not. The revolution was in the tailoring, in the shoulder, in the waist and in the breast, so on that level is very close to menswear. Monsieur Dior himself was also a tailor, he loved wools more than chiffon. So on that level it was not that difficult. And also I think creativity is creativity so if you put boundaries on what you know then that limits. But I still have a lot to learn, at least another ten years there.”
The lure of couture...
In three years since taking over the house, Simons has redefined Dior as a contemporary concern, with couture as the purest expression of his vision. Says Mulier, “I think that couture is pure luxury because everything is possible. And the client is much more open, she’s looking for something that doesn’t exist, she’s looking for something that’s exquisite.” Working in the ‘laboratory’ at Dior with the petit mains at the ateliers, Mulier is constantly struck by their dedication to their craft. “They will always say yes and they will always try, but you need to challenge them. For them, everything is possible and they’re not afraid of anything.” Impending notoriety bestowed by the film’s rave reviews notwithstanding, what Mulier loves best about his role at Dior is the human interaction: “Being responsible for the studio which is all creative people and then working with the ateliers where there are no egos and it is all about teamwork – that’s the beauty of what I do.”