In remembrance of Manfred Thierry Mugler, who passed away just over a month ago, we celebrate his defining contributions to fashion and art.
Although the word “icon” was tossed around by millennial girlbosses, white gaysTM and TikTok citizens, one person who deservedly deserved the epithet was surely the enfant terrible of fashion, Manfred Thierry Mugler. . His death on January 22 sent shivers down the spines of all fashionable and fashionable people around the world: the world had lost another visionary – and with him a golden era succumbed to oblivion. Descriptors like “designer” or “creative” director don’t even begin to encompass Mugler’s contributions not just to fashion but to art in general.
Born in Strasbourg in 1948, attracted by the arts, at the age of nine he began training in classical dance which would then lead him to the ballet corps of the Opéra National du Rhin. While there, he enrolled in an interior design course at the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg and, after completing his formal training in the late 1960s, began working as a designer. independent for the London boutique Mr. Freedom. Ten years later, Maison Mugler was born.
It’s impossible to separate the man himself from the house of Mugler – not just a fashion label, but a powerful vehicle for pure artistic expression. The house was born in 1973 from a collection called Café de Paris – the first public showcase of Mugler’s sharp 1940s-inspired silhouettes, which remained in the designer’s oeuvre until he left the brand in 2002. .
During the 80s and 90s, Mugler achieved international fame with ambitious fashion shows that looked more like theatrical performances than a traditional parade; it was only natural, given his lifelong fascination with costume and his formative years in ballet troupes. For the 10th anniversary of his brand, he created a large-scale production entitled L’Hiver des Anges, which brings together fashion, music and theatre. Among the 250 glamorous specters in attendance at the show was pregnant Black American model Pat Cleveland, who, dressed as Madonna, descended majestically from the ceiling to mark the celebration’s triumphant finale. To say that Mugler wanted to champion diversity and inclusiveness would be like saying that bees want to have stripes. Celebrating individuality was part of his nature. Alongside models of the generation, he incorporated women of color, trans models, adult movie stars and queer artists into his shows – it was his take on pure beauty, with no claims of diversity points. .
1992 was a turning point for him and – at the same time – a defining chapter in the fashion history of the 90s. After the Spring/Summer 1992 ready-to-wear fashion show, Mugler worked with George Michael to produce the “Too Funky” music video. A book of behind-the-scenes trivia from the three-day shoot could rival in thickness that of Dalí’s 1941 Surrealist Ball, or the legendary stacks of Polaroids taken from the bathrooms of the Met Gala. Julie Newmar, longtime Mugler muse and originator of the role of Catwoman in 1960s Batman, once described the shoot as “hysteria, lots of tobacco and raw nerves”.
Indeed, “Too Funky” was a testament to Mugler’s daring showmanship and artistic ambitions – and all for the good cause of promoting AIDS awareness. As one of the stars of the video, drag artist Joey Arias, told Vogue, “The Mugler characters were superhuman. No one is just mediocre, these are superhumans: the thinnest and the tallest and the most extreme and the most beautiful. The video featured model and actress Emma Sjöberg strutting down a catwalk in a Harley-Davidson bustier and Linda Evangelista, her headdress dripping with ostrich feathers, surrounded by flattering paparazzi. Newmar, then 60, stunted in a PVC bodysuit and Sjöberg – again – posed in an all-chrome metal gear that was cast on her body in 14 painstaking fittings. The video, which could be described as “the newcomer’s guide to the Mugler universe”, was also according to Arias “the pinnacle of fashion”.
In the same year, Mugler also revolutionized the world of perfumes with Angel, the first known example of gourmet perfume. The olfactory masterpiece has a rich pyramid of sweet notes: cotton candy, melon and coconut on top, honey, blackberry and rose in the middle, and caramel, chocolate and vanilla on the bottom. The fragrance was inducted into the FiFi Hall of Fame in 2007. Mugler himself spearheaded the campaign, choosing Jerry Hall as the face of the fragrance’s first generation. A 1998 relaunch of the fragrance featuring model Amy Wesson inspired several artists and pop culture figures, including Hirohiko Araki’s creation of artwork for his manga Vento Aureo in 1999.
In all their extravagance, “Too Funky” and Angel only scratch the surface of Mugler’s genius. His tour de force as a fashion designer and showman came with his 1995 haute couture show, when he presented his 20th anniversary collection at an ambitious event at Cirque d’Hiver, dubbed “The Woodstock of Fashion. “. It’s nearly 100 looks, including a beautiful gold metal corset worn by Nadja Auermann, which would later become entrenched in popular culture through interpretations by Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana. Mugler muses of the time, such as Carmen Dell’Orefice, Veruschka von Lehndorff and Jerry Hall, rubbed shoulders with young fashion darlings like Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Eva Herzegova, while American socialite Patty Hearst performed a strip- tease – it made sense. The “scalpel-cut aero details” once attributed by Vogue to the designer were evident on the runway, along with hourglass waistlines, various cyborg outfits and, of course, the Birth-of-Venus dress.
Another catwalk from the 90s deserves – at the very least – an entire chapter in every fashion manual. The 1997 Haute Couture collection, titled Les Insectes, was a parade of haute couture dominatrixes, vampires and arachnids that made even the most pedantic couture collector dream of getting their hands on the creatures Mugler imagined. The late designer put models in precisely tailored skirts with defined hourglass waists, transforming women into flies, yellow vests, butterflies and more. The show drew gasps with its liberal use of latex (on both men and women) and the cast of couture gimps decorating the runway’s entry points. It showed literal references proudly heightened, while still respecting the ambitious nature of haute couture. “His fashion is combined with the superlative,” writes Nathalie Bondil, chief curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – and the superlative Insects were.
It took a certain level of curiosity to calibrate the proportions needed to achieve those of a Mugler silhouette. Take Jerry Hall’s dress, for example. The velvet dress with ostrich-covered butterfly wings at the back took hundreds of hours to perfect and speaks to Mugler’s enduring desire to “make a creature”. Whatever the collection, her motivation has always been to accentuate beauty – whether through ultra-feminine silhouettes or alien synthetic shapes.
Manfred Thierry Mugler’s legacy is as rich and remarkable as his fashion shows, clothes, perfumes and photographs. “I don’t look for difficulties, I look for extreme sophistication, a sense of humor and complete accomplishment,” he once told Business of Fashion. The late artist paved the way for some of this generation’s most promising fashion designers, including David Koma, Casey Cadwallader and Nicola Formichetti. Her insatiable thirst for life, experience and beauty will resonate through recitations of her artistic inventions – not only when her glamazon friends like Kim Kardashian and Cardi B walk the red carpets – but also, inevitably, whenever someone will celebrate differences.
This story first appeared on Prestige Online Hong Kong.