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Bringing theatre down the runway

Read our ode to French fashion designer Thierry Mugler, who was loved by celebrities and the who’s who of Hollywood for his daring and outrageous creations

Famed for his bold and daring fashions, Thierry Mugler defined an era in design, epitomising the concept of power dressing and emboldening women with shapes and cuts never seen before.

During the 1980s, he transformed the catwalk show into an event for the masses, bringing in celebrities, performers and concerts for his 1984 spectacular at the Zenith, Paris’ biggest arena.

Stars, from Diana Ross and Madonna to Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Cardi B, have worn his gowns at galas. His often controversial creations have been used in the likes of music videos, including George Michael’s 1992 hit Too Funky, with models donning the outrageous outfits so quintessentially Mugler-esque.

Having come into the industry via dance and photography, the French fashion designer studied at the Lycée Fustel de Coulange in Strasbourg from 1960 to 1965 and then at the School of Fine Arts until 1967.

He performed as a dancer with the Rhine Opera Ballet in the 1965-1966 season before moving to Paris to work as a professional photographer while freelancing as an assistant designer for fashion houses in Paris, London, and Milan.

Showcasing his first ready-to-wear collection in 1973, his sophisticated yet often taboo-breaking styles were loved through the generations.

Bursting onto the global fashion stage, he was often described as "a dancer with a completely individual feeling for shape and colour" and "an artist who would use his sense of theatre and ballet to work out the themes for his shows". Even critics of the late 1970s believed that his creations, when pulled apart from his shows and seen on racks in his showroom, were the most sage and real pieces one could ever want.

Photographer Helmut Newton used much of Mugler’s clothing in shoots for fashion publications in the 1980s, where fun and femininity took centre stage, in sync with the rise of the body-conscious movement emerging at the time.

With his background in dance, theatrical influences became his trademark and materials such as leather, latex and rubber earned him the reputation as a fashion rebel in the couture stakes. Inspired by cabaret costumes, Mugler was not shy to push the limits of what was ever the norm.

It is clear to see how Mugler’s own theatrical fantasy world came alive through his work: a collection of cinched waisted and shoulder-padded pieces which became synonymous with 1980s fashion, inspired by goddesses, princesses and superheroines.

His quirky collections showed women as robots, motorcycles and even clams, taking the concept of femininity far beyond the catwalk stereotype.

Mugler would later go on to open his own fragrance company in 1990, launching his hit perfume Angel in 1992, which was later bought by Clarins. But the designer finally hung up his boots and retired from fashion in 2002.

Able to express his more eccentric visions during this time, he continued to create bespoke pieces for Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce and other science fiction inspired looks.

But it was Kim Kardashian’s famous "wet dress" from 2019’s Met Gala that signalled his comeback after the two-decade-long hiatus. It was made out of latex and adorned with beads to resemble water droplets and took a total of eight months to complete.

The boundary-pushing Frenchman immortalised his creations in the Thierry Mugler: Couturissime exhibition in Canada (now transferred to Paris), where, for the first time, he curated a collection of his most iconic pieces. The exhibition reflects how he contributed so significantly to shaping the world of fashion, fearless in the pursuit of showing off women’s figures with the shapely and contoured way in which he saw their beauty and power.

Manfred Thierry Mugler, born on December 21, 1948, died on January 23, 2022. His passing was mourned by many, with several of the industry’s greatest names calling him a friend.


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