Thierry Mugler, French fashion designer who breaks genres, dies at 73
Thierry Mugler, the scandalous and revolutionary French designer who dominated European catwalks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died on Sunday. He was 73 years old.
His passing was announced on his brand’s official Instagram. “#RIP,” he said. “We are devastated to announce the passing of Mr. Manfred Thierry Mugler on Sunday January 23, 2022. May his soul rest in peace.”
Reached Sunday evening, two of his close friends confirmed his death. No cause was given.
Mr. Mugler was one of the main architects of a style that swept away the minimalism of the late 1970s and replaced it with an explosive yet camp power dressing aesthetic, a comic book fusion of S&M and high fashion in which a drag queen, a prostitute, and a Reaganite social x-ray from “Bonfire of the Vanities” become almost the same person, as if standing in front of a three-way mirror.
Among those who modeled in her shows were singer Grace Jones, drag singer Joey Arias and that characteristic goddess of Park Avenue upstarts, Ivana Trump.
Mr. Mugler’s figure was an inverted triangle characterized by giant shoulders and a nipped-in waist. He loved latex, leather and curves.
by George Michael”So cool(released in 1992) was actually a Mugler TV show.
In it, Linda Evangelista was made up for the camera like a space-age Cruella De Vil, wearing a peroxide blonde wig and dripping in fur. Another model came out in a Harley-Davidson inspired metal bustier with real motorcycle handles that protrude from each side of the waist, mirrors attached to the breasts and a headlight in the center.
As Mr. Mugler said, fashion was just “trick and play”. Her role as a designer was to provide women with tools to make fantasy a reality. “I don’t believe in natural fashion,” he told Holly Brubach in The New York Times in 1994. “Let’s go! The corset. The push-up bra. All! If we do, let’s do the whole number.
Mr. Mugler was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1948. His father was a doctor whose surgical precision he inherited, his mother a housewife whose elegance he was captivated with, and he spent his adolescence dancing in a local dance company, trying unsuccessfully to shake off the desire to leave home. “Nothing suited me,” he later told The Independent. “I found everything very, very boring, I was very, very uncomfortable and very, very alone.”
So at 20, he moved to Paris, where he started making his own clothes – floor-length military coats, pants dyed all the colors of the rainbow. In 1974, he launched his own brand.
Harrods got it back. Helmut Newton, the godfather of dominatrix chic, has been hired to shoot a first campaign. As Mr. Mugler’s name grew, so did the size of his shows.
In 1984, he took over the Zénith, a sports arena in Paris, to stage one of the most theatrical fashion shows since the Battle of Versailles. Smoke billowed from the scene. Pat Cleveland came down from the ceiling looking like a demented angel. Gregorian singers were singing.
“Nobody in fashion has come close to the level of theater that they’ve created,” said Interview editor Mel Ottenberg.
But Mr Mugler’s unabashed embrace of gay iconography overshadowed his spectacular sewing and construction technique, marginalizing him at a time when the AIDS epidemic was at its peak.
“The exteriority of designers coming to terms with being gay wasn’t a thing then,” said Paul Cavaco, who during Mugler’s heyday was fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar. “People knew but you didn’t really talk about it. It was not considered fancy. And he was there send drag queens like Lypsinka on the track.
So even at Bazaar, which at the time was arguably America’s most adventurous fashion magazine, Mr. Mugler’s clothes were largely ignored, Mr. Cavaco said.
In the mid-90s, there were rumors that Mr. Mugler was bored with fashion. As stores clamored for his clothes, he began experimenting with film and photography.
Nevertheless, his 20th anniversary show in Paris was another show. Tippi Hedren opened the show by descending a giant staircase to the music of “The Birds”. Her heels were very, very high. At one point, she fell.
The cost of the show is rumored to be nearly $2 million. What paid him off, according to the Independent’s Marion Hume, was “that thing called perfume.”
His was called Angel, contained the nectariferous scents of honey, vanilla, pralines, chocolate, caramel, and patchouli, and was wildly successful despite being laughed at by many. Jerry Hall was the face of many of his campaigns. And in 1997, that led to beauty conglomerate Clarins taking a majority stake in its brand.
Whether Mr. Mugler happily left his brand in 2002 or left the industry to avoid being pushed as minimalism came back into fashion (see: Helmut Lang), he kept working.
In 2003 he was the creator of Zumanity, a successful Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas which featured fire-breathing dominatrixes, drag performers like Raven O and Mr. Arias, and muscle men dressed in nothing but their underwear, writhing on top of each other. A new generation of pop stars and designers have drawn inspiration from his archives.
Alexander McQueen’s punk chic sensibility and Rick Owens’ Mad Max through Antarctic vibe were both strongly influenced by the work of Mr. Mugler. Just like Lady Gaga’s first “Bad Romance” look. Beyonce wore the old motorcycle bustier on the cover of her 2009 album “I am…Sasha Fierce”. Soon after, she hired Mr. Mugler to do the costumes for her tour.
At the time, Mr. Mugler’s extreme physical transformation into a supervillain wearing comic book leather clothing was the source of tabloid fodder. Nude photos of him with pecs wide as a block away have leaked onto the internet. He started calling himself Manfred.
But a decade later, when red carpets became glorified reality shows in which celebrities competed to outdo each other in the category of campy theatrics, Mr. Mugler staged a comeback.
Cardi B showed up to the Grammys in February 2019 looking like a Disney princess in a flesh-colored Mugler bodice, with sequins across the chest and a floral skirt that peeked out from behind her — a human pearl, nestled in a pink shell.
A few months later, Ms. Kardashian attended the Met Gala in a Mugler-designed dress that looked like every curve had been dipped in high-fructose corn syrup (or something else). These viral looks introduced him to millions of new fans and may have led to “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime”, a multimedia retrospective of his work at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
Mr Ottenberg, the Interview editor, took it into his head to shoot Mr. Mugler for the magazine.
“Every gay my age has had their manhunt photos,” Mr Ottenberg said, referring to the pre-eminent gay digital hookup site of the pre-Grindr era. “I have them! They’re not for your story, but I have them somewhere. So I reached out to him on Instagram and we started talking. I said, ‘Can I shoot you naked?’ He was like ‘Yes, but I have to train for six months first.’ And he did.”
Photos, taken by Steven Klein and published in 2019, are not at all the kind of things you would see in Vogue or Bazaar. Mr Ottenberg went on to describe taking them as “the most outrageous moment of my entire career”.
This suited Mr. Mugler, who once summed up his philosophy as follows: “The opposite of good taste is harmless.”
Christine Chung contributed report.