And Mugler orchestrated his fashion shows – shows being the key word here. Now, in the age of Instagram, when models parade almost emotionless for snapshots and smartphone videos in 15 minutes flat (or even less), we forget that fashion shows were once major productions, and no one made them bigger, splashier or campier than Thierry Mugler.
When I was a model in the early 80s in Paris, I remember hearing about supermodel Pat Cleveland, dressed in jeweled white dresses as the Virgin Mary, falling from the ceiling from the Zénith concert hall on a stage in a cloud of smoke on the soundtrack of “Kings of Kings”, while rose petals flooded the stage. (Appropriately, Cleveland was six months pregnant.) As seen in the “Couturissime” exhibit, Jerry Hall vampirized him on the Mugler catwalks, as did drag queens and former porn star Traci Lords. All were dressed in his perfectly tailored suits – these suits! With their linebacker shoulders and Jessica Rabbit waist! – and her Glaamazon outfits. “They looked futuristic,” Mugler explained on our call. “But when you look closer, you see that they are handmade, with a human touch. We have done the impossible.”
For the Thierry Mugler brand’s 20th anniversary show – the fall/winter 1995 haute couture collection at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris – he not only outdid fashion, he outdid himself. We were all there in the Belle Époque circus hall, watching superstar models from all eras – Carmen Dell’Orefice, Veruschka von Lehndorff, Jerry Hall, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss – as well as actresses Julie Newmar and Tippi Hedren parade on a pair of white runs connected by a spiral staircase in Mugler’s designs. Nadja Auermann stepped out in a gold robotic outfit that made her look like R2-D2. Media heiress Patty Hearst took off her clothes during a striptease. James Brown — that’s right, the godfather of soul himself — closed the show with a performance of “Sex Machine,” as male go-go dancers frolicked around him and confetti rained down on him. all of us.
Thankfully, videos of all of this, and more, are on display in the “Couturissime” exhibition, which will continue to travel the world after its Paris tour. As a tribute to Mugler, the museum is now offering free entry to the exhibition. As the director of the museum, Olivier Gabet, explained to me this afternoon, it was Mugler’s excessive spectacles that gave us the shards of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen in the late 90s and early 2000s. “Mugler was ahead of its time when it came to shows and empowering women through design,” Gabet said. “He made feminism sexy and powerful, whether it was models on his catwalk in the 1990s, or Kim Kardashian and Cardi B now. He was all about empowerment.
Mugler agreed. When he designed the costumes for Lady Macbeth, he considered her “a superhero and a super fighter”. He told me he wanted women to look “provocative” and “strong” without giving up on beauty.
As Mugler and I were wrapping up our conversation last fall — full of laughter and joy — I asked him how he was going to spend his afternoon in Paris.
“I’m going to see Christo’s Arc de Triomphe, of course,” he said, of the late artist’s posthumous wrapping of the city’s showpiece.
“How can you miss this?”
Dana Thomas is the editor of British Vogue. His book, Fashionopolis: the price of fast fashion and the future of clothing, is out now.