From the runway to Gagosian: the creative director of Alaïa joins forces with the gallery to exhibit (and sell) dresses inspired by Picasso’s ceramics

At the fall shows in Paris in January, Alaïa’s creative director Pieter Mulier sent six show-stopping, form-fitting dresses towards the end of his elegant second show.

Splashed with reductive strokes and earthy colors, the dramatic dresses carried necklines that extended to face coverings. The models appeared enigmatic, quasi-religious and totemic, like living versions of Pablo Picasso’s “Tanagra” series of ceramics, which the artist had based on the 4th-century Greek figurines of ordinary women. Now, three of these Picasso-inspired dresses have been made available at the Gagosian store (online and in the London branch) ahead of their September release. The line between gallery and gift shop has become more blurred; now you can add a fashion workshop to the brew.

Alaïa: Picasso Tanagra dress. Photo: Maison Alaïa. Courtesy of Gagosian.

The retail partnership is part of Gagosian’s new fashion and art initiative, which invites fashion brands with artist-inspired items to offer them through the gallery’s boutiques. The first iteration was Parisian jeweler Repossi’s Robert Mapplethorpe-inspired collection, released in New York in May, followed by Alaïa-Picasso in June, before the dresses were shipped to London. Each mini-collection is paired with rare books and ephemera for purchase to complete the theme: for example, in London, Picasso dresses ($6,500 and $11,500) are accented by a dress from 1948. Art books issue devoted to the Spanish master and the two volumes Picasso ceramics for $3,000.

Picasso and Alaïa have indeed been linked for years. The house’s namesake founder, Azzedine (who died aged 82 in 2017), was a “shape sculptor”, using cutting-edge couture techniques and fabrics. Its mesh flowed like mercury and hugged all the curves of the body. Before getting into fashion, Alaîa studied sculpture at the School of Fine Arts in his native Tunisia (he lied about his age to enroll). The visionary designer amassed an extensive collection of haute couture and art, now kept in Paris by the Azzedine Alaia Foundation.

Mulier’s Picasso capsule didn’t just pay homage to the house’s legendary founder with figure-hugging dresses; he also nodded to a personal connection. Alaïa befriended the Spanish artist after he moved to Paris in the 1960s and was close to the Picasso family until his death.

Alaia dress inspired by Picasso's 1949 ceramic vase, Woman with Mantilla.  Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.  Courtesy of Gagosian

This Alaïa look presented at the Gagosian store in London is inspired by Picasso’s ceramic vase Woman with mantilla (1949). Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Courtesy of Gagosian.

Mulier, too, has a deep affinity for art. He joined Alaïa in 2021 after having been a lieutenant of Raf Simons during his positions at Jil Sander, Calvin Klein and Dior. In addition to the Picasso references, Mulier was inspired by the sculptures of Sarah Lucas for the colors of the rest of the clothes in the collection. The brand worked directly with the Picasso administration on the limited-edition dresses.

“The only way to do it with the Picasso estate [was] to make it as close to the artwork as possible,” Mulier told the gallery’s publication Gagosian Quarterly. “The ceramics are very elongated, so the interesting part of the project was to mix his vision on a real body, a female body.”

Alaïa: Picasso Black and Blue Tanagra Robe Edition of 10. Courtesy Gagosian

Alaïa: Picasso Tanagra Black and Blue Dress, edition of 10. Courtesy of Gagosian.

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