As Mulier remembers it, Simons came up after the exam to offer Mulier his card. “He said, ‘I don’t think you’re an architect; I think you’re a fashion designer,’ ” Mulier recalls. “I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘I think you are.’ ” Simons proposed that Mulier visit his atelier in Antwerp—an invitation that Mulier recalls answering with polite indifference. “Then my girlfriend said, ‘Oh, yes, you’re going,’ ” he explains. Three months later, knowing almost nothing about fashion, Mulier showed up in Antwerp to begin the internship that changed his life.
The city of Antwerp is at once human-scaled and expansive, encompassing the second-largest harbor in Europe. Its old center extends from squares of gorgeous Flemish town houses; its more recently rebuilt regions have an industrial air, traced with green. In 2014, Mulier bought the penthouse of the Riverside Tower, a concrete modernist icon designed by Léon Stynen and Paul De Meyer and completed in 1972, on the city’s “left bank”—a parky residential flatland that Le Corbusier once tried to lay out as an ideal neighborhood. Mulier spent two years renovating the apartment, which had been De Meyer’s own home, with the help of the architect Glenn Sestig and the landscaper Martin Wirtz, who designed him a distinctive rooftop garden based on ivy, irises, grasses, and trees. And he filled it with new art: Tim Breuer, Bendt Eyckermans, Steven Shearer, and much more. (“I think I prefer artists to fashion people: There’s something more direct in what they do,” he says.) A favorite word of Mulier’s is extreme, and the penthouse, which looks out both on downtown Antwerp and on the waterfront, is proudly that. Every species of plant in the garden, Mulier says, was chosen because it had survived the explosion at Hiroshima. When he held an Alaïa show here, on a chilly day last January, models paraded through his library, his office, and his bedroom.
“It’s like an island, because we’re so high,” Mulier says, glancing now in satisfaction at the river and the city spread below. “It’s a little world outside the world.”
When Mulier is in residence, he wakes at a quarter to seven—his windows, which are huge and trapezoidal, have no blinds—makes himself breakfast, and returns to wake his dog, John John, who sleeps with him in bed. They walk together for an hour in the nearby woods. At home, he showers and starts sending emails. If it’s a workday, he’s at it from 9 a.m. to somewhere between 7 and 9 at night; then he and John John walk again, and he meets friends for dinner, or cooks—one of his favorite things. By 11 or 12, he’s back in bed. “It is actually quite classic, my day,” he says, as if the thought were just occurring to him. (In Mulier-ese, what’s “classic” is what’s not extreme.) Zoom was, for him, the best thing to come from the pandemic: He has not set foot in New York since 2019, when he and Simons and his former partner of 16 years, the designer Matthieu Blazy, all living there, left Calvin Klein. “I was so happy in New York,” he says. “It would break my heart to go back.”