The phrase “high fashion” usually calls to mind names like Gucci, Prada, Armani, or Versace. These brands have had an outsized impact on fashion history thanks to their enduring ability to add something new to the conversation, whether through innovation, revolution, or unexpected and visionary ideas. They have helped create and shape the fashion world as we know it, which is what made and continues to make them so successful.
Another designer name that ranks as one of the greats in the industry is that of Thierry Mugler, whose revolutionary shows and avant-garde ideas made his loss hard felt across the fashion industry.
Who Was Thierry Mugler?
Manfred Thierry Mugler was born in 1948 in Strasbourg, the capital of the Grand Est region of France. He started his design career when he was only 23 years old and soon decided to move to Paris to follow his dream and feed his passion for design.
He created his namesake fashion brand in the early ‘70s. From the start, it was clear that he wasn't going to settle for anything remotely classic or simple, instead embracing an aesthetic of extravagance that became his signature. His career took off after his 1984 fashion show at the Zenith Stadium in Paris, which attracted attention thanks to its flashy collection and theatrical effects, a recognizable Mugler feature (a remarkable moment was the ascension of a young Pat Cleveland as a blasphemous Madonna).
During his career, Mugler worked hard to dignify outfits made out of vinyl and latex, sometimes creating dresses that were criticized as promiscuous and even some designs that referenced the, at the time, still taboo world of bondage. His work showed that anything can be reshaped and rethought to become high fashion, if one only has the courage to go against trends and create one of your own.
After gaining acclaim, he stepped away from fashion in 2003. He stated that fashion had given him a lot and that he had given a lot to fashion, but that it was time to take a break from it.
He returned to his fashion brand almost 10 years later, in 2012, as creative director. From there, he quickly became an all time favorite designer of red carpet looks and on-stage concert outfits.
During his time away from the fashion world, Mugler survived several serious accidents requiring long surgical interventions. He lately referred to these incidents as an opportunity to change his appearance. During an interview he said that, “I wanted my face to represent progress, because after years of being a thin, charming dancer, I wanted to be a warrior. I’ve done so much in my life. I’ve fought so much. I’m a superhero, so it’s normal to have the face of one”.
An Example of Inclusive Representation and Diversity
Through the years, Mugler dressed some of the biggest actresses and supermodels. From Diana Ross to Kim Kardashian, to Cardi B, Beyoncé, Cindy Crawford, Lady Gaga, and Claudia Schiffer – there is hardly one star that has never worn one of Mugler’s memorable creations.
Thierry Mugler was not only a fashion visionary, he was avant-garde. He began exploring the maze of gender and identity fluidity many years before it became a mainstream global topic of discussion, let alone a focus in the fashion industry.
The presence of Black and Asian models during his shows, although not outstandingly high, was also much more prevalent than what appeared in his contemporaries’ shows. And when it came to LGBTQ+ community inclusivity, Mugler also outdid all his competition. As early as 1992, Mugler featured drag queens in his shows, inviting Lypsinka, John Epperson’s drag persona, to model for him.
Most recently, Hunter Schafer, who plays a transgender character in the tv show Euphoria and identifies as she/her and they/them in real life, and Dominique Jackson, a transgender actress, walked the runway for the Mugler’s Spring/Summer collection of 2021. By doing this, the couturier focused the fashion industry’s conversation on a hot topic.
Throughout his career, Mulger’s bucked the dominant fashion narrative of the day and opened doors to themes that had only been partially addressed before. He did this without fear, knowing that others would follow his example in the battle for inclusivity and representation.
4 Iconic Mugler Looks
Thierry Mugler was a visionary. In each one of his creations, you could find an extravagance that only few have dared to show before him. Here are some of his most memorable creations.
- La Chimère, his most expensive creation, appeared in his 1997 Autumn/Winter collection. The dress, a careful combination of pearls, crystals, and feathers on a gold corset, took almost two years to complete. Every single scale on it was hand-painted. This piece became a turning point in Mugler's career.
- Cardi B’s dress for the 61th Grammy Awards in 2019 was part of Mugler’s collection from 1995. This dress was a dramatic recreation of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and illuminated what many saw as an ascension moment of the rapper's career. After his passing, Cardi B stated that he had been the first designer to “take a major chance on her,”' allowing her to wear one of his vintage creations and realizing one of her biggest dreams.
- Mugler was also known for creating an incredible array of original bodysuit variations. The straight lines and delicate curves used by Mugler in his creations have always been unique to his collections, resulting in a perfect balance between a constantly present feminine gracefulness and a much harder masculine cut.
Image from AMA
- Mugler earned headline coverage again for Kim Kardashian’s controversial wet look at the Met Gala in 2019. This garment was so form fitting that Kardashian needed help just to sit down. Mugler used the dress to convey the idea that the entrepreneur had just emerged from the ocean on a California beach.
If there’s one thing that not only emerging designers, but everyone could learn from the fashion industry, that is the example left behind by Thierry Mugler. He showed that being unique and thinking differently from everybody else isn’t a burden that someone has to carry, but an asset to exploit to your own advantage. In the end, his biggest and best creation was more significant than one dress or fashion product. Where others saw outrageous ideas, he saw new possibilities, doors that had yet to open, opportunities just waiting to be discovered. We can only hope that future designers remember and emulate his example.
That will be his legacy.