Why visiting Thierry Mugler: Couturissime is essential
Ever since it opened during Paris Fashion Week, fashionistas, fans and mere tourists have been chorusing on social media that the retrospective Thierry Mugler: Couturissime inside the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is essential viewing. We consider why that is absolutely right.
Mugler was one of the leaders of a small group of Paris-based designers known as the créateurs de mode, a small highly talented gang who revolutionized French fashion in the early 1970s, paving the way for an entire generation to launch their own brands. As Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, staged until April 24, 2022, inside the Musée des Arts Décoratifs explains carefully.
Born in 1948 Strasbourg, Mugler dreamed of being a dancer and even joined a ballet corps before moving to Paris aged 20. There he worked in a hipster boutique before working as a freelance designer and launching his first marque, Café de Paris, in 1973. The same year, a group of American designers – including Halston, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta - outperformed local French stars like Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert Givenchy in the legendary Battle of the Designers in Chateau de Versailles thanks to superior production techniques. An event chronicled by Netflix in its recent Halston series.
A year later, Mugler created his eponymously named brand and from the beginning staged collection spectacles with his instantly recognizable broad-shouldered superwoman silhouette; and his signature cartoonish Catwoman-meets-Barbarella heroines.
By 1984, when he staged his 10th anniversary show, Mugler organized a super-show where the public could buy tickets, and 6,000 people crammed into the Zenith in a show worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. That same year, President Mitterrand would receive the créateurs in the Elysees Palace and publicly proclaim that fashion was an art.
One indication of Thierry’s VIP fandom is the list of individuals or estates who contributed images and photographs to the retrospective – Lady Gaga, Madonna, Celine Dion, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Karl Lagerfeld, Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, David LaChapelle, Joey Arias, Ellen Von Unwerth, Gisele Bundchen and Arthur Elgort among over a half century of generous friends.
However, the heart of the exhibition comes after 1992 when Thierry had created the global perfume hit 'Angel' with Clarins, allowing him even more financial free rein to indulge in his greatest fantasies. Like his remarkable period of mechanical inspirations like Cadillacs and Harley Davidsons in his final uber-luxe ready-to-wear shows, brilliantly captured in George Michael famous rock video Too Funky. The video in the exhibitions features Thierry’s edit and not George’s, in one of the many creative disputes that characterized his dramatic career. His erratic personality running battles with Women’s Wear Daily didn’t help his business much either. Mugler was always a curious mixture of gentlemanly bourgeois, like the city where he was born, and late-night after-hours party-animal supreme.
But as someone who attended the original Too Funky live show inside the Palais de Tokyo as the young editor, the sense of revolutionary excitement and of fashion tearing down a moralistic ancient regime was tremendously exciting. A rare moment that will probably never be repeated in fashion.
However, the high point of the exhibition are two later and utterly compelling collections, Les Insectes of 1996, with biological surrealism, and La Chimère in 1997, with its incarnations of fantasy regal beauty like the Tonkinoise empress red velvet suit. Best of all, the absolutely astounding La Chimère gown in scales, feathers and crystals, worn famously by Yasmin Le Bon, as a bio-morphic goddess that predates and humbles the best efforts of computer-generated technology.
The expo also presents multiple examples of Mugler’s own photography – most memorably his early photos of Amazonian blonde beauties perched precariously on Stalinist gothic buildings in Moscow, at a time when it was almost impossible to visit the Soviet Union. And, intriguingly, of his design for a darkly surrealist version of Macbeth, presented with a half-dozen costumes and a fantastic series of holograms.
Like many other important designers, from Coco Chanel to Jean-Paul Gaultier, Mugler’s fashion house was eventually swallowed up by the owner of his perfume license. Though like those two colleagues he also wrote an indelible chapter in fashion history, which this show brilliantly encapsulates.
If you are in Paris over the next six months, do not miss it.
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