Whether we know Thierry Mugler or not – we all know the glamour standards he set: Spectacular fashion shows, extravagantly feminine couture and world-famous perfumes. With his work Mugler not only shaped the vibrating era around 1990, he quickly became a universal artist: Thierry Mugler not only created fashion and couture, he invented perfumes, photographed his own creations, worked as a director, as a costume as well as spectacle designer.
The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris recently devoted the extensive retrospective Thierry Mugler, Couturissime to the iconic fashion designer, who surprisingly passed away in January 2022, amidst the very successful exhibition. Enjoy this closer look at his art of fashion, illustrated by the impressions of the show at the MAD Paris. A show, that attracted over 420.000 visitors.
About the HYPER feminine
Thierry Mugler’s fashion is – first and foremost – intrinsically linked to the aesthetic of the 1980s and 90s: The hyper feminine, body-hugging silhouettes, the narrow waists, extremely broad shoulders, bold colors and the strong power dressing aspect breathe the Zeitgeist of 80s and 90s fashion.
But a closer look also reveals that Thierry Mugler’s fashion actually have their roots in a different – but equally feminine – era: The 1950s. Mugler’s clothing is – at many stances – inspired by the fashion of Dior and his era. And especially by the work of the then famous film costume designer Edith Head, who dressed Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak and many more in their iconic movies. Mugler clothing quotes this very specific retro glamour on many stances.
Elegance vs. EXAGGERATION
The hourglass silhouettes and overall exalted attitude of the 50s and the 90s evoke a similar glamour. The sheer difference on the other hand becomes visible when confronted with many of Thierry Mugler’s extravagant looks at once. Because one Mugler dress might look rather timeless. Combined with another ten of his outfits it shows the degree of aesthetic exaggeration Mugler used in his designs. The femininity of his fashion seems elegant when looking at one outfit – when facing ten looks one all of a sudden sees how this femininity is exaggerated to a caricature of women’s fashion. A wonderful one – of course. But a caricature nevertheless.
A performing CATWALK
Thierry Mugler’s career has been as much about the fashion shows as his fashion design. The designer organized huge catwalk shows for paying visitors – a very new approach during the 80s and 90s, where fashion shows were exclusively staged for journalists and fashion professionals. In 1984 – for the tenth anniversary of his brand –Mugler for example staged a show of over 300 dresses for a public of over 5000 fans at the Zenith, a concert hall in Paris – something rarely seen so far in the industry. But Mugler’s gowns were not only presented at these shows, they were actually performed. The models, who wore them, were not only walking they were acting in them, personifying the Mugler woman: An emancipated, extravagant and confident woman, who is not afraid to attract attention. Via her looks, her outfits and her behavior the Mugler women is a true femme fatale standing on a stage – literally.
Strike a POSE
But it’s not only the performance aspect of the shows, it’s also the image work, that was created during the show. The models were not only walking, they were striking a pose and – together with the magnificent light work – posed for magnificent pictures. Now you might object: Well, isn’t this happening at every fashion show – a woman walking and then posing?! Yes, it for sure is. But in Mugler’s case the shows – just as the fashion itself – were exaggerating the traditions of the ‘classic’ catwalk. Just as the clothing is a sort of caricature of women’s fashion the Mugler fashion shows were caricatures of ‘the’ fashion show itself. The walking, the posing, the stage, the music and light design are somehow self-referential. The whole mise en scène seems to be playing itself.
MODELS & ACTORS
The fashion theorists Lee Widdows und Jo McGuinness have put it pretty well in their book “Catwalk: Working with models” (London, 1996) when talking about the role of models in fashion shows:
“Not only do they [the models] feel the mood of the clothes, they walk well and above all, they have a presence, that comes alive on the runway. This is not just classic beauty nor is it simply sex appeal, it is that special quality which an actor brings to the screen or stage.”
This definition of the role of models applies to modeling for Mugler on a first but also on a meta level: The fact, that all of the so-called super models of the era – Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Eva Herzigova, Helena Christensen and many more – ‘play’ important roles in each of Mugler’s iconic shows only underline the fact, that a Mugler catwalk is not only the catwalk of catwalks. By the density of the top of the tops this kind of fashion show is kind of a play of a fashion show. Linda, Naomi and Claudia are not only the super models of the shows, they also play super models – they play themselves.
Thierry Mugler’s aesthetic strategy of exaggeration finds its climax in his work as a director: In 1990 he directed the music video “Too Funky” by George Michael and perfectly staged his world of fashion: All the super models are catwalking – and so are his most famous looks. George Michael’s song and presence as a pop star rounds it all up – the music video remains to be one of the most iconic of all times.
About the Art of EXAGGERATION
Experiencing Thierry Mugler’s works in such a density as it was possible at the MAD Paris was an eye opener. Seeing all his iconic looks, his visual language, his univers personnel was mind-blowing. But it also made clear, that Mugler created costumes – no matter if it was prêt-à-porter, couture or stage costumes. That his visual language was developed with a certain theatricality in mind. And that this theatricality involved a caricatural approach to everything he created: Whether it’s the fashion shows, his concept of femininity, his works as a director and costume designer – and his fashion designs.