Yesterday, it was announced that the godfather of ‘power dressing’, Manfred Thierry Mugler, tragically passed away at the age of 73. Known for his bold silhouettes, energy-infused designs and reigning stance over fashion in the 80s, this news came as a shock to the industry, with yet another legend gone.
Born in Strasbourg in December 1948, Mugler took to Paris aged 20, creating his own label ‘Café de Paris’ in 1973, a year before founding Thierry Mugler. Going on to launch a series of iconic campaigns throughout the 70s and 80s, Mugler became a permanent fixture in the fashion landscape, acclaimed for his unconventional and boundary-pushing approach to fashion and design as a whole.
Citing the LGBTQ+ community as a frequent source of inspiration, inclusion was at the core of Mugler’s brand, casting trans models in his shows throughout the 80s and becoming known for collaborating with both club kids and drag artists. The couturier was also heavily inspired by the human body, drawing both praise and criticism for his exaggerated depictions of the female form. Despite stepping away from the brand in 2002, a few projects lured Thierry out of ‘retirement’ since then. We’re taking a look at some of his most iconic moments in fashion, in homage to the legendary designer.
FUTURISM AND FEMBOTS
Using corsetry to exaggerate the female form became somewhat of a trademark for Mugler, and nowhere was this more evident than in his ‘fembot’ aesthetic era. Here, he combined traditionally ‘femme’ codes with the zeitgeist of emerging (and then, dystopian technology), which included the appearance of robots.
His preoccupation with tech and machinery started with a collection dedicated to the designer of the classic Cadillac’s tail fins in 1989. By the 90s, collaborating with industrial designers and aircraft bodywork specialists, Mugler created a legion of robot-inspired looks, which included chrome bustiers, plexiglass catsuits and fluro-60s headpieces. Culminating in 1995 with a look inspired by a dystopian novel, Mugler produced ‘maschinenmensch’: an all-encompassing metal body armour that took over six months of work to complete.
Back in the 70s, though, Mugler defined his brand with a look that became known as the ‘glamazon’. Body conscious cuts, architectural lines and unusual materials separated Mugler’s woman from the flower power aesthetic of the time, helping to progress and define the key codes of Thierry Mugler the brand.
Here, shoulders were big, waists were small and cuts were revealing. It was in this era that Mugler borrowed from the aesthetics of fetish and kink, introducing latex and leather as core materials. While many critics chose to define this ‘glamazon’ aesthetic as anti-feminist and reductive, there was a self-awareness to his design in its empowering quality: something feminist scholar Linda Nochlin summarised as “so extreme that these women aren’t sex objects, they’re sex subjects”.
Mugler the brand was also famed for its iconic imagery. Often taking to the camera himself, Thierry Mugler would point out fashion’s absurdities from behind the lens, all whilst showcasing his latest designs. In 1987, we were given an icy white campaign shot in Disko Bay, Greenland. Dramatic landscapes seemed to inspire the designer, who then personally shot a campaign in Mali the same year.
Elsewhere, Mugler got behind the camera to shoot ‘dinosorus’ – a playful campaign which utilised the Cabazon dinosaur models as larger-than-life props. Mugler’s firm grasp over campaigns demonstrated his awareness of the industry, understanding that the promotional imagery was as important as the pieces themselves.
By the 90s, the house of Mugler became known for its perfume too – thanks to its signature fragrance, Angel. Telling WWD that he “wanted a fragrance so delectable you could eat it”, the scent had notes of vanilla, candied fruits and almonds, and became notorious for its positioning of a whole new category of perfumery: known now as ‘gourmand’ fragrances.
The bottle utilised a new, innovative process of glass casting, and was created in conjunction with an industrial designer. Mirroring the disruptive quality of his fashion, Angel quickly became an industry-displacing scent, and the house continued to release successful perfumes since.
THIERRY IN RECENT YEARS
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Although Manfred Thierry Mugler stepped away from his label in 2002, the designer was still operating on particular projects in recent years. In 2019, Cardi B shone a light on to Mugler’s archive by wearing the iconic ‘venus’ dress to the Grammys. Originally created in 1995 for the brand’s couture show, the dress once again stole the show on the red carpet. That same year, Thierry collaborated with Kim Kardashian on what many hailed as her best Met Gala look – a skin-tight, wet-look latex construction, complete with dripping jewels and ruching in the centre.
He has also been the subject of several recent exhibitions, which look at the couturier’s decade-spanning career, designs and personal life. Originally showing in Canada before coming to Paris late last year, Thierry Mugler: Couturissme retraces the work of the legendary designer and is showing until 24 April.
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