The name Mugler has become synonymous to haute couture sensuality and revered for its contribution to gay iconography on the runway. The brand’s founder, French designer Manfred Thierry Mugler, rose to prominence as a fashion provocateur with his avante-garde and architectural creations worn by the likes of David Bowie and Lady Gaga. His passing at the age of 73 is a deep loss not only for the fashion industry but for the LGBTQIA+ community as well.
“It is with deep sadness that the House of Mugler announces the passing of Mr. Manfred Thierry Mugler. A visionary whose imagination as a couturier, perfumer and image-maker empowered people around the world to be bolder and dream bigger every day,” the Mugler brand stated on Instagram earlier today, Jan. 24.
Mugler’s current creative director Casey Cadwallader wrote in his personal tribute, “Manfred, I am so honored to have known you and to work within your beautiful world. You changed our perception of beauty, of confidence, of representation and self empowerment. Your legacy is something I carry with me in everything I do. Thank you.”
Manfred Thierry Mugler launched his first collection “Café de Paris” in 1973. Not long after, the Strasbourg-born designer was joined by Azzedine Alaïa in creating broad-shouldered suits with a punk flair. It wasn’t until 1978 that Mugler would open his first boutique at the Places des Victories. Since then, he has made his mark with his signature inverted triangle silhouette with giant shoulders and a nipped-in waist.
During the ’80s and ’90s, Mugler redefined high-fashion eleganza by embracing theatricality and creating garments in new shapes and materials like latex, leather, and plexiglass. While his use of corsets was deemed by his critics as sexist, Mugler’s vision was for his futuristic and hyper-feminine designs to further empower a woman with attitude.
Some of Mugler’s most notable creations include his Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 1997-1998 bird-mermaid hybrid dress covered in scales and feathers, his Couture Spring 1997 collection inspired by insects, which included a butterfly-winged corset dress, and the metallic gold corset he dressed model Nadja Auermann in.
His fashion shows were also gamechangers. His 1984 show was the first public fashion show, seating over 6,000 people. When he asked Diana Ross to walk for his Summer 1991 collection, it was the first time a singer-actress walked the runway. And most importantly, he turned the catwalks into venues for subversion. “The outwardness of designers embracing being gay wasn’t then a thing,” former Harper’s Bazaar fashion director Paul Cavaco told the New York Times. “People knew but you didn’t really talk about it. It was considered not chic. And here he was sending drag queens like Lypsinka down the runway.”
“Mugler’s brash, campy aesthetic has led to many defining catwalk moments that could be read as queer. For his spring/summer 1992 show at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, Mugler enlisted drag artist Lypsinka, whose performance style draws on sources including old Hollywood (actress Joan Crawford) and high fashion (’50s model Dovima), to lip-sync in four separate outfits: each removed with a flourish to reveal another beneath. Beginning with a ’50s meets ’80s power suit and ending in a black slip, it was a spectacular performance, forming just one example of the complex back-and-forth exchange between fashion and drag,” Vogue wrote about one of Mugler’s most memorable shows.
Over the years, Mugler was able to work with and dress a long list of fellow icons such as Grace Jones, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Joey Arias, Madonna, George Michael, and Beyonce.
After Mugler stepped down as creative director of the house in 2002, Nicola Formichetti took over while dressing Lady Gaga during her “Born This Way” era. David Koma would take up the mantle in 2013 and then Cadwallader in 2017. In more recent years, the brand has made headlines with Cardi B wearing its vintage “Venus” dress at the Grammys and Kim Kardashian’s “wet” Met Gala dress.
Rest in power, Mugler! You can learn more about his designs by checking out his retrospective “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” staged by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs which will run until April 2022.
Photo courtesy of Manfred Thierry Mugler’s Instagram