“I made clothes because I was looking for something that didn’t exist. I had to create my own world.” What a world it was that fashion designer Thierry Mugler created. The acclaimed French fashion designer, who was famous for his fragrances and Demi Moore’s not-so-little black dress from Indecent Proposal, died today at the age of 73. The cause of death is not immediately known.
His death was announced via his team by sharing a black square to his personal Instagram profile page with the caption: “We are devastated to announce the passing of Mr Manfred Thierry Mugler on Sunday January 23rd 2022. May his soul Rest In Peace.”
Mugler entered the fashion scene in the 1970s. In the 1980s when he hit the Paris catwalks for the first time, his PVC ensembles adorned by models who seemed like intergalactic dominatrixes were not received favorably. At the time, the thought of anything made from PVC being considered luxury or high-fashion was blasphemy. Despite the negative reviews from fashion critics, Mugler pushed on and became one of the most recognizable names and celebrated designers in the fashion industry.
Mugler’s designs matched the drama of his name—a collision of sharp angles, big shoulders, tiny waists, with colorful eruptions enlivening the contours. Mugler’s designs were made for big entrances and big exits. His was the fashion of maximum impact and drama, which is why his vintage designs have been happily rediscovered and relished by today’s pop stars.
Cardi B revived his “Birth of Venus” creation (1995) at the 2019 Grammys—a pink duchess satin and black velvet “Venus” sheath dress and embellished bodysuit, and last year in Paris wore another creation of his crowned with scarlet feathers (from Mugler’s famous Cirque d’Hiver show) for the launch of a massive exhibit of his work. Lady Gaga wore one of his designs in her “Telephone” video, and Beyoncé, a gold corset reborn for her “Sweet Dreams” video; and years before all of them, if you haven’t seen it, enjoy David Bowie wearing Mugler while singing “Boys Keep Swinging” (hoisted by Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias) on Saturday Night Live in 1979.
Born in Strasbourg, the Frenchman was in love with drawing from a young age. He also began studying classical dance at age 9. At 14, he joined the ballet corps for the Rhin Opera. During his time as a ballet dancer, he was also studying interior design at the Strasbourg School of Decorative Arts. Of his time in the ballet world, Mugler told Elle, “When you’re on stage, you are someone else.”
After leaving the ballet, Mugler began designing clothes for Karim, where he would create the broad-shouldered, 1940s inspired looks that would come to define his career. He would move to Paris to work as a window dresser for Parisian boutique Gudule, where he was also allowed to design on the side. After years as a freelance designer, Mugler would launch his first line, Café de Paris, created in partnership with businessman Alain Caradeuc.
A turning point for Mugler came when legendary fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa joined his company helping Mugler to create looks that were parts urban, part punk, and part jet-setting society woman. In 1978, Mugler opened his first boutique at the Places des Victories and launched his men’s line. It became clear at that point he was becoming a force to be reckoned with.
While Mugler’s designs took a moment to come into the favor of the fashion editor elites, he had perfect timing as his rise to stardom coincided with the cultural rise of the supermodel. In the ‘80s as Mugler became one of the “it” fashion shows of Paris Fashion Week, models including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Eva Herzigova all strut the runways in the designers’ creations ranging from chrome bodysuits to feather dresses.
Mugler became known for his extravagant fashion shows that were held arena-style almost as if spectators were going to watch a theatrical performance. They were fitting shows for a man who dedicated the early portion of his life to dance and performing, and who in 1992 would return to the world of costuming.
Mugler was both director and costume designer for George Michael’s music video for “Too Funky.” The video was quintessentially Mugler as Michaels played a fashion designer staging a fashion show that starred Herzigova, Evangelista, among other supermodels including Tyra Banks, Nadja Auermann, and Beverly Peele.
Although it was the ’90s and LGBTQ acceptance was only eerily creeping along after the worst period of the AIDS crisis, Mugler, who himself was openly gay, also included drag legends Joey Arias and Lypsinka in the music video. The video also featured models and future actors Justin Chambers and Djimon Hounsou. In addition to his eye for fashion, Mugler had an eye for top talent.
His dress for Moore in Indecent Proposal was considered extremely controversial for the more reserved ‘90s. It was unquestionably sexy but still tasteful. If his motive was to get people beyond the fashion world talking about him, Mugler, without question, succeeded.
At the same time, Mugler came under scrutiny for some believing he was treating women like sex objects (ironic for an openly gay designer), but fashion critic Aline Mosby said of Mugler’s designs, “The liberation of women from being sex objects went out the window in the 10 days of the 1983 Paris spring/summer and ready-to-wear shows…” She found the work of Mugler and his contemporaries to be problematic, observing, “It could be fun fashion for some women, a put-down for other anti-sexist women.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, one could argue that Mugler knew sex sells. He had a particular passion for corsets, a garment once considered a fashion prison for women, but he knew how to make them modern. In 1989, Mugler met corset maker Mr. Pearl at one famed New York nightlife producer Susann Bartsch’s Love Ball in New York City. Bartsch’s parties, even to this day, are known for attracting a large LGBTQ crowd and tons of creatives ranging from art to fashion.
“Kardashian’s dress was one the most talked-about looks of the night as she appeared on the red carpet looking like she was dripping wet in a latex corset that clung to her body dangling with beaded crystals.”
The two ended up collaborating on Mugler’s upcoming runway show and thus the Thierry Mugler corset was born. Mugler designed his first haute couture collection in 1992.
His passion for corsets never died. At the 2019 Met Gala, reality star and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian brought Mugler out of retirement to design a corset dress for her that took 8 months to make. Kardashian’s dress was one the most talked-about looks of the night as she appeared on the red carpet looking like she was dripping wet in a latex corset that clung to her body dangling with beaded crystals.
In 1997, Clarins bought the rights to Thierry Mugler’s name. In 2003, amid slumping sales, Clarins shut down the ready-to-wear component of the business, although they kept the fragrance division since it was profitable. Mugler left the fashion industry in 2002, although he continued to create.
He would go on to collaborate with Cirque du Soleil for costumes, work as an artistic advisor to Beyoncé create her costumes for the “I Am… World Tour” and doing interior design for hotels and resorts. While he never had another full-fledged collection again, Cardi B kept him relevant to an entirely new generation of fashion and hip-hop lovers by regularly wearing many of his archival designs. Her Venus gown became one of the most talked about dresses of the 2019 Grammys.
After stepping deeply behind the scenes after leaving his fashion brand in 2002, Mugler would start stepping back into the public eye in 2010—at which point, Eric Wilson of the New York Times noted the designer’s dramatically different appearance.
For starters, he began calling himself by his legal first name, Manfred, as he felt that Thierry Mugler was a brand and he wanted to separate himself from that. A lifelong bodybuilder, Mugler had bulked to 240 pounds of Mr. Olympia-worthy muscle. He reportedly also has several plastic surgeries done after a car accident left his face scarred. In 2019, he would show off his body in a scantily clad photoshoot for Interview magazine.
There was no shortage of an outpouring of love from him upon the news of his death including posts from Ken Downing, Nicola Formichetti, who led the revival of the MUGLER label in 2010, and Olivier Theyskens.
The world has lost another one of its titans of fashion, following the death of famed Vogue editor Andre Léon Talley earlier this week. Perhaps they are both getting ready for a theatrical fashion show in heaven.