Exclusive| Has ALAÏA’s Opportunity Arrived in China?

1月 04, 2024

“Regardless of whether it’s within the Richemont Group or in the entire fashion world, ALAÏA has a unique genetic heritage. It can be said that ALAÏA makes us a dream.”

This is how Myriam Serrano, the Global CEO of ALAÏA, described the brand in a conversation with Luxe.CO.

ALAÏA, founded in Paris, France in 1981 by Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaïa, is considered one of the most influential contemporary fashion masters.

Alaïa himself intensely focused on, shaped, and accentuated the beauty of the female form, thus earning the title “The King of Cling”.

In 2014, with the push from Beijing SKP, ALAÏA already entered the mainland market.

Last year, the brand opened its first boutique in Shanghai’s Plaza 66, currently having 5 stores in China. They are continuously looking for more suitable store locations to accelerate their expansion in the Chinese market.

It is noteworthy that in 2021, the Swiss Richemont Group appointed its first external creative director for the brand – Belgian designer Pieter Mulier, who is well-known in the industry as the right-hand man of Raf Simons.

For a brand that is almost every Parisian woman’s dream, with high design recognition, and offers both haute couture and ready-to-wear accessories, what is the next strategic plan in the Chinese market?

In this interview, Luxe.CO exclusively shares our exchange with the brand’s CEO – Myriam Serrano.

  • Who is Alaïa?
  • How Did the Brand Move Forward Two Years After the Founder’s Death?
  • “We first need to raise brand awareness in China”

Myriam Serrano’s career began at LVMH Group’s CELINE, serving as the brand’s accessories manager; before becoming CEO of ALAÏA, she had served as the accessories manager for designer brand Nina Ricci and Richemont Group’s Chloé.

Who is ALAÏA?

“ALAÏA can represent women’s independence and strength while interpreting their inner softness, and this is the brand’s advantage and charm. It has a powerful silhouette cut, but the material and color are very gentle. It always enhances women’s confidence and strength in a non-aggressive way,” said Myriam Serrano in the interview.

This brand DNA originates from its founder, Azzedine Alaïa (pictured below):

  • He had a background in sculpture and years of tailoring experience, mastering fabric manipulation;
  • He was known as “The King of Cling,” still a model followed by top designers like Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière and Italian designer Riccardo Tisci;
  • He created the concept of “supermodel,” inviting models over 180cm tall with curvaceous figures to walk his runway shows since the mid-1980s;
  • He was the first designer in the fashion world to refuse to show during Fashion Week;

Beyond his designer role, Azzedine Alaïa was also a passionate haute couture collector.

Starting in 1968, he extensively collected various designers’ works. By the time of his death, he had amassed over 2000 haute couture pieces, covering many designers from Charles Frederick Worth, the “father of haute couture,” to Jeanne Lanvin, Jean Patou, Madame Grès, Gabrielle Chanel, and many others from the early 20th century to contemporary times.

“Azzedine Alaïa was very interested in all forms of art and culture. In the past, whenever there was an auction in Paris, people would invite him to take a look, and he often bid on the spot to enrich his collection,” Serrano told Luxeplace.com.

From September 27, 2023, to January 21, 2024, the Palais Galliera, the Fashion Museum in Paris, will host an exhibition named “Azzedine Alaïa, couturier collectionneur,” showcasing nearly 140 pieces from the designer’s collection for the first time.

How Did the Brand Move Forward Two Years After the Founder’s Death?

In 2017, Azzedine Alaïa passed away. For nearly four years following his death, the creative work of the ALAÏA brand was managed by an internal design team, until early 2021 when Belgian designer Pieter Mulier was appointed as the brand’s Creative Director.

Pieter Mulier, a graduate of the architecture program at the Institut Saint-Luc in Belgium, became Raf Simons’ first assistant and senior head designer for the Raf Simons brand, later working with Simons at Jil Sander, Christian Dior, and Calvin Klein.

Myriam Serrano sees a strong bond between Pieter Mulier and Azzedine Alaïa. On one hand, Pieter is also a collector. “The first time I talked to him, he mentioned that he had collected many ALAÏA works in the past. He already knows the brand very well, which I found incredible,” she said. His home is filled with art pieces collected from around the world.

On the other hand, Pieter and Azzedine Alaïa have a strikingly similar social style. In the past, Alaïa often entertained friends, artists, and clients in his kitchen. Now, Pieter does the same. His home in Antwerp, Belgium, serves as the workspace for him and the ALAÏA design team. In January this year, Pieter even hosted the ALAÏA Fall 2023 show at his home.

As the brand’s Creative Director, Pieter Mulier himself said in an interview with the Financial Times that he has a simple mission: “to protect the brand and then make the name ALAÏA more widely known.”

To this end, he incorporates haute couture and ready-to-wear into each season’s show, while introducing more everyday, affordable items like swimwear, denim, and lingerie.

Interview Transcript:

Luxe.CO: Why is Pieter Mulier the right person?

Myriam Serrano: From the I was amazed the first time I spoke to him because he knew already everything about Alaïa and he used to collect Alaïa himself. He is someone who truly understands the roots and DNA of ALAÏA.

Pieter and Mr. Alaïa are similar. Through his designs of ready-to-wear and accessories, he clearly conveys who the ALAÏA woman is, something we very much need. ALAÏA is niche and secretive in the public’s eyes, so now, our main goal is to expand the scale in a specific way, communicate with the new generation, while maintaining the brand’s unique charm and values.

Luxe.CO: What growth has the brand achieved in recent years?

Myriam Serrano: Since Pieter joined the brand and hosted his first show two years ago, we have seen incredible growth globally.

On one hand, we continue to bet on the ready-to-wear business, but we will still retain haute couture to provide top clients with their dream garments. On the other hand, we see huge potential for ALAÏA in different categories, such as ballet flats, handbags, and accessories. Compared to haute couture and ready-to-wear, these categories help attract a broader, younger clientele.

In fact, ALAÏA has the strength to become a top luxury player.

Luxe.CO: How do you collaborate with Pieter Mulier?

Myriam Serrano: It is very important to have open discussions. Pieter and I have our own responsibilities, but the more we discuss towards the same goal, the more I understand the brand’s creative expression, and the more he increases his say in the business aspect.

In fact, Pieter likes business data, and I have been involved in product-related work from early on, often discussing products with creative people. These experiences make communication easier for both of us, and we understand each other well.

Even though sometimes our opinions differ and discussions turn into arguments, I think it’s great to communicate like this every day. Through this way, we can find the best solutions.

Pieter is pushing some challenging things. I understand and believe in his vision. We should not be afraid of trying new things. This is the beauty of working with a creative director every day. He always has new ideas, which often prove to be right, moving the brand forward.

“We First Need to Raise Brand Awareness in China”

In 2007, Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont acquired a majority stake in the ALAÏA brand. The Financial Times noted that since its acquisition, ALAÏA’s performance had been relatively flat.

However, during the telephone conference for Richemont’s 2023 fiscal year financial report (ending March 31, 2023), the group’s CFO, Jérôme Lambert, specifically mentioned, “Since Pieter Mulier became the brand’s Creative Director in 2021, every collection of ALAÏA has seen growth in sales and desirability, allowing the brand to selectively expand its retail footprint.

“The group never puts pressure on the ALAÏA brand or on me; they are more concerned about how we respect and protect ALAÏA’s brand assets,” Serrano told Luxeplace.com.

Regarding the Chinese market, ALAÏA has always maintained a relatively slow expansion pace. In 2014, the brand entered the Chinese mainland with the help of Beijing SKP and only opened another store in Xi’an SKP four years later.

Interior decoration of the ALAÏA boutique in Chengdu SKP

Although ALAÏA’s retail expansion in China is not rapid and the brand awareness is not fully established, in recent years, with its unique and highly personalized design style, ALAÏA has won the favor of a group of young female consumers. These women are confident, independent, and strong, eager to try more distinctive designs, which constitutes an opportunity for ALAÏA to develop in China.

ALAÏA also continues the high expectations of its founder, Mr. Azzedine Alaïa, for the Chinese market. Mr. Alaïa had a deep affection for Chinese culture and often appeared in Tang suits. Currently, ALAÏA is accelerating its expansion in the Chinese market by appearing in mainstream shopping districts of key cities to target more precise audiences. In August 2022, ALAÏA’s first mainland boutique opened in Shanghai’s Plaza 66, and in March this year, ALAÏA opened its first store in Chengdu SKP.

Online, ALAÏA has opened a WeChat boutique, and its brand accounts on WeChat Public, Weibo, and Little Red Book are also operational.

ALAÏA boutique in Shanghai Plaza 66

Luxe.CO: What is the profile of ALAÏA’s Chinese consumers? What is the biggest challenge for the brand in China?

Myriam Serrano: In China, I have talked to some VIC (Very Important Customer) clients. They have their own careers and are eager for novelty. They like ALAÏA because it makes them recognizable in the crowd and feel different. These clients are also our primary target.

Our priority in China is to raise brand awareness and find our place among many large competitors.

In fact, ALAÏA has many opportunities in China because we are such a unique and personalized presence. At the same time, Chinese women are reinterpreting their self-aesthetics, becoming more confident, and forming their unique styles, perfectly matching the tone of the ALAÏA brand.

Luxe.CO: What plans does ALAÏA have for offline expansion?

Myriam Serrano: We hope to open stores at the right pace, selecting good locations to ensure they match ALAÏA’s luxurious positioning. We prioritize quality over quantity of stores.

I highly recommend Chinese consumers visit ALAÏA’s flagship store on Marignan Street in Paris. There, in addition to seeing all of ALAÏA’s products, you can taste ALAÏA coffee in the courtyard and understand every aspect of the brand universe. This is precisely what we need to do in China – create a world that goes beyond the product itself. Here, people can experience products, art, design, culture…

Globally, we plan to open a larger store opposite a Hermès boutique in Paris next year and a store on the southern coast of the USA, so Chinese consumers can also see ALAÏA during their international travels.

 | Image Credit: Provided by ALAÏA

丨 Reporter:Zuo Xiaoli

 | Editor: Zhu Ruoyu