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Thierry Mugler's Fashion Legacy is the Epitome of Sexual Expression

Updated: Dec 24, 2022

When you search the name Thierry Mugler keywords like avant-garde, luxe, and iconic will appear repeatedly, but not many people know the full extent to which his work can be accredited. Thierry Mugler studied ballet for 6 years which taught him the value of performance and showmanship. He started his clothing line in 1973 and subsequent collections from the newly established fashion house began to attract attention. He was one of the first to combine the worlds of fashion, theatre, and music in the early 80s. His artistic ways were an avant-garde approach to fashion design and the use of muses to inspire and inform his works was a signature of the brand. Mugler’s creative philosophy was of larger-than-life and otherworldly aesthetics. He worked on stretching the boundaries of imagination and representation. When asked about his fashion philosophy, he said he doesn’t think of it that way: “Because I think I’m just taking care of human beings, especially making women look beautiful.” His style has been called the ultimate representation of the femme fatale because of how he manipulated and transformed the female body through his designs.

Mugler transformed ordinary women and supermodels alike into otherworldly and astonishing creatures. Many of his classic designs use a structure of broad shoulders and a sharply cinched waist to showcase his tendency toward hyper-feminine aesthetics. This influence came from the old Hollywood glamour and fashion of the 1940s when there were few ways for women to express their sexuality other than through their clothing. His use of corsets and strong shoulders throughout his work implemented a somewhat armor-like style that saluted strength in these feminine features.

Sculpted looks that scream sex appeal were Mugler’s signature. His bold and sexually confident clothes with powerful broad-shouldered and slim-waisted silhouettes became a sensation, defining the era of “power dressing.” He used materials frequently associated with fetish cultures such as latex, leather, chains, and more that disrupted the cultural norms of fashion for decades to come. Mugler was also one of the first designers to champion diversity in his runway shows and campaigns. He was a renegade whose visions and pursuit of beauty changed fashion forever. Thirty years before Vogue would become more inclusive, Mugler was already working with gender-bending models like Connie Fleming and Terry Toy. David Bowie owes many of his iconic androgynous looks to Mugler’s styling.

Madonna in Mugler for the cover of Life Magazine, December 1986 Issue.

His fashion shows were performance pieces aside from the art of the attire itself. Mugler was an interdisciplinary artist who curated his abilities and inspiration to execute captivating events. The Fall/Winter 1995 show highlighted many of Mugler’s main qualities with its use of black sultry looks and fetishistic feels. During the showcase, James Brown performed his song "Sex Machine." In a review of Mugler’s twentieth-anniversary show, Vogue wrote that he had a rather "liberal use of fetishistic latex." Now, newer designers like Laquan Smith are inspired by Mugler’s work when displaying their own at Fashion Weeks around the world.

Cardi B in archived Mugler pieces from the Fall 1995 collection.

He was well-known for his sense of humor and sensuality throughout his art. He earned great fame from his successful exploration of the world of perfumes. Mugler wanted to work beyond the appearance of bodies and more with the sense of them. His first, and stand-out, perfume was called Angel and used sweet scents rather than the usual floral. It was one of the first of its kind. Mugler left his eponymous label in 2003 but continued creating costumes and sets while pursuing his interest in the world of fragrances.

Lady Gaga and former Stylist/Creative Director for Mugler, Nicola Formechetti.

In the early ’90s, Mugler began his directing career with George Michael’s music video for the song “Too Funky.” The production blew through its millions-dollar budget in the first two days of a five-day shoot. The team all volunteered to work the rest of the shoot for free because the video was intended to raise funds for AIDS research. Lady Gaga wore original pieces in her music video for “Telephone,” walked in the Fall 2011 runway show, and wore numerous famous pieces like the meat dress. In 2009, he worked as the Assistive Director alongside Beyoncé to create her wardrobe for the “I Am” World tour. “I was very touched that she asked me,” Mugler told Vogue, “because she could have asked younger people. But she recognized that I was pretty much at the origin of this moment now about superheroes, the structured silhouette, and the extreme silhouette, and [Beyoncé] wanted that.”

Janet Jackson on the set of the “Too Funky” music video.

Mugler came out of retirement to create his first design in 20 years. A custom outfit for Kim Kardashian at the “Camp: Notes on Fashion” Met Gala. Making the dress took 8 months alone, but it then took hours to get into the dress which was so sculpted that Kim couldn’t sit or use the restroom while wearing it. The design was meant to embody the California girl coming out of the ocean slowly and sensually dripping wet. Inspired by Sophia Loren in the film Boy on a Dolphin. He also dressed Cardi B for the Met and the Grammy’s the same year she was the first female to win Best Rap Album. Years later, Cardi B arrived at the “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” exhibition in an over-the-top red sequined strapless gown from the Mugler Fall 1995 Couture collection. The rapper also wore a matching cape and feathers. This was her first appearance since the birth of her child in a tightly sculpted dress, featuring feathers that add a sense of classic showgirl dazzle.

Most recently, after Mugler’s passing, his brand has partnered with more impressive women such as Dua Lipa and Megan Thee Stallion in his infamous dom-like outfits for tours and music videos. Mugler’s recent Spring/Summer 2022 collection video showcases Megan Thee Stallion, Lourdes Leon (Madonna’s daughter), Bella Hadid, and other famous women cementing the brand’s use of celebrities in tandem with fashion to create iconic works. The brand continues to carry Mugler’s name along with his artistic legacy through new faces and designs, along with the empowerment of feminine sexuality.

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