A sensation in the U.S. since the early 1980s, Alaïa is back with a New York City store that celebrates the American art and design scene.
The sleek, gallery-like boutique at 149 Mercer Street in SoHo displays works by Robert Rauschenberg, Mike Kelley, Jonathan Horowitz and Donald Judd, whose foundation is a stone’s throw away.
It opens Saturday amid an accelerated retail push for the Richemont-owned fashion brand, which is gunning to build direct-to-consumer channels to account for up to 70 percent of the business over the next three years, according to Myriam Serrano, Alaïa’s chief executive officer.
“We want to build a close relationship with our clients,” the executive said, disclosing details of the Manhattan store exclusively to WWD.
Historically a wholesale-driven brand, Alaïa now counts eight freestanding boutiques in the world, five shops-in-shop in Europe and Japan, plus six boutiques operated with partners in Korea and China.
British architect Sophie Hicks conceived the minimalist interior of the Mercer Street store, as she did for Tokyo and Shanghai. The other Alaïa boutiques are in Paris, London and Dubai.
A high-profile boutique in Paris on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the site of an Alaïa fashion show last July, is slated to open in September 2024, with Serrano hinting that this new “emblematic address,” catty-corner to the historic Hermès flagship, will create “a journey through Alaïa’s way of life, couture and style.”
Pieter Mulier, Alaïa’s creative director since 2021, curated the furniture and artworks for the Mercer Street, calling New York a “city of resilience, and resilience is the feeding ground for creativity.”
Mulier noted that New York has a “special significance for me,” as it did for the late Azzedine Alaïa, who in 1988 had planted a boutique at 131 Mercer Street that showcased fashion, industrial design and art, including monumental bronze sculptures, racks and imposing plaster-cast fixtures by his friend Julian Schnabel.
That store closed in 1991, and much of the furniture moved to Alaïa’s historic Paris boutique on the Rue de Moussy, where the Tunisian-born couturier also lived and toiled into the late hours, crafting his meticulous, body-conscious designs.
The fashion house, controlled by Compagnie Financière Richemont, since 2007, aims to recreate the unique atmosphere the founder stoked at Rue de Moussy into all of its retail implantations.
Serrano described visiting that boutique — with the kitchen tucked behind and the atelier and living quarters upstairs — as one that cultivated “a bond with arts, a one-of-kind art de vivre, and a family spirit embodied by the famous dinners Azzedine Alaïa hosted in his own kitchen, surrounded by friends, artists and clients.”
In the interview, Serrano related how Alaïa’s unique leather designs with eyelets were embraced by stylish women and captured by street-style photographer Bill Cunningham for WWD. By 1982, Bergdorf Goodman invited the Paris-based designer to stage a show in New York.
Azzedine Alaïa was strongly associated with Barneys New York, and it helped expand his business and fame in America until the retailer shuttered in 2020.
“The United States is currently our second market, after Europe,” Serrano said, also noting that Americans rank among its top three in terms of nationalities. “[Alaïa’s] unique approach to the feminine body deeply resonated with the American woman and explains why he became so successful in the USA.”
Today, Alaïa’s key retail partners in America are headlined by Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. The brand also has strong relations with specialty and online retailers including Dover Street Market, Maxfield, The Webster, Net-a-porter and Mytheresa.
The New York boutique opens as the brand charts business momentum. In reporting its third-quarter results, Richemont cited higher sales across most of its fashion and accessories maisons, particularly Alaïa and Peter Millar, contributing to 6 percent sales growth in its “other” business area.
Serrano said Mulier’s “sculptural and sexy silhouettes” convey the essence of the brand to younger generations.
“The commercial success of his direction can be found in our latest bestsellers. Some of them are very new, like Le Coeur, Alaïa’s new iconic bag,” she said, noting that others “found inspiration in the classic shapes and materials of the house, like the bodysuit, the knitwear dress or the denim collection.”
Mulier is slated to show his next collection for Alaïa on Friday in Antwerp, Belgium.