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French Designer Manfred Thierry Mugler Has Died


Manfred Thierry Mugler. Photo: Getty

Manfred Theirry Mugler has died. He was 73. Though he stepped away from fashion in 2002, the designer remained an outsize figure in the industry and his early designs have been discovered by a new generation of power women. After seeing Mugler’s work in the Costume Institute’s “Superheroes” exhibition in 2008, Beyoncé commissioned tour costumes. More recently, his show-stopping looks have been sought out by the likes of Cardi B. and Kim Kardashian. The latter commissioned a custom “wet look” by Mugler for the 2019 Costume Institute Gala.


Kim Kardashian in Mugler at the 2019 Met Gala. Photo: Getty for The Met Museum/Vogue


Strength and display were the pillars of Mugler’s work. His archetype was an Amazonian woman, commanding and in command, but still with a sense of humor and flirtatiousness. Mugler’s clothing was used in several Helmut Newton shoots for Vogue in the 1980s, and it’s easy to see a synchronicity in the two men’s approach to open-ended narratives, and fun.


Mugler, spring 1992 couture Photo: Condé Nast Archive

Mugler’s “type” was the femme fatale, and his preferred silhouettes were the inverted triangle with exaggerated power shoulders and the defined hourglass shape. The idea of the wasp waist took on new dimensions when he imagined his models as insects for his spring 1997 haute couture. In other collections Mugler presented women as robots, motorcycles, and even clams, but he could also see them as goddesses and angels. In one instance a pregnant Pat Cleveland, as the Madonna, was famously lowered onto the runway from on high.


Mugler, fall 1984 couture Photo: Getty

Born in Strasbourg in 1948, Muger studied at the School of Fine Arts and danced with the opera there. He made the leap to Paris in 1966, where he worked variously for other designers and as a photographer. He showed his first creations in 1973 and founded his namesake label the next year, and he quickly became known for the forcefulness of his cuts and vision. Here’s how editor Mary Russell, writing in Vogue in 1977, first introduced Mugler to readers:

“Thierry Mugler is a loner. He will take off for Africa or India for months at a time, alone, with one pair of jeans in a sack. An ex-dancer with a completely individual feeling for shape and color, he uses his sense of theater and ballet to work out the themes for his shows. The clothes, however, can be pulled apart and, when seen on racks in his showroom, are the most sage and real pieces one could ever want. For his new boutique on La Place des Victoires, he designed the mannequins and jewelry—everything very luxurious but brut (gold threads in rough linen, for example). Thierry and [his fellow designer] Claude Montana speak to each other every day but never discuss a collection.”


Mugler, fall 1995 couture Photo: Condé Nast Archive

In sync with the body-consciousness of the 1970s and ’80s, physicality was an important aspect of Mugler’s work, though he was equally preoccupied with craft and materiality. Even in photographs it’s possible to see how Mugler took control of fabric, cutting and twisting it to his will. His most extreme looks, like the motorcycle dress, are almost engineered; indeed Vogue once praised his “scalpel-cut and aerodynamic details.”

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