Born: Strasbourg, Alsace, France, 1948. Education: Studied at the Lycée Fustel de Coulange, 1960-65, and at the School of Fine Arts, Strasbourg, 1966-67. Career: Dancer, Opéra de Rhin, Strasbourg, 1965-66; assistant designer, Gudule boutique, Paris, 1966-67; professional photographer, from 1967; designer, André Peters, London, 1968-69; freelance designer, Milan, Paris, 1970-73; created Café de Paris fashion collection, Paris, 1973; founder, Thierry Mugler, 1974, owner, from 1986; published Thierry Mugler, Photographer, Paris, London & New York, 1988; Thierry Mugler Perfumes, created 1990; Angel fragrance introduced, 1992; first couture collection shown, 1992; worked on film Prêt-á-Porter, 1994. Address: 130 rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, 75008 Paris, France.
Thierry Mugler, Photographer, Paris, London & New York, 1988.
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Rich in iconography, the work of Thierry Mugler has, since 1974, exploited wit and drama to convey an imaginary narrative that is at once erotic, amusing, and unsettling. His clothing spans the spectrum from vulgar ornamentalism to the most rigorous minimalism, denying the possibility of defining a Mugler style.
Born in 1948 in Strasbourg, Mugler was a child prodigy at the city's School of Fine Arts. At the age of 14, he began dancing with the
It is Mugler's imagery that most clearly identifies him within high fashion. His sources include Hollywood glamor, science fiction, sexual fetishism, political history, Detroit car styling of the 1950s, and various periods in the history of art and decoration. In this way, his work reflects the eclecticism of the art world during the 1970s and 1980s. Mugler has taken a particular delight in industrial styling, which he displayed in the precise geometries of ornamental detail and through his vocabulary of thematic references, which have included the jet age forms used in the fantastic automobiles devised by Harley Earl for General Motors during the 1950s.
Clothing designs that operate as costumes in a dramatic narrative have reinforced the importance of Mugler's link with the cinema and particularly with the American film costumes of designers such as Edith Head, Travis Banton, and Adrian. A love of glamor was evident in his extravagant 1992 collection, redolent of 1950s fashion at its most lavish and photographed among the Baroque roof sculptures of the old city of Prague. His interest in romance and the bizarre has often run counter to political ideologies. Against a backdrop of feminist reinterpretation of the female image, Mugler adopted an ironic, postmodern stance and exploited an array of erotic icons as themes for his collections.
Women who favor Mugler are often those who find themselves encased in rigid materials such as leather, latex, rubber, plastic, plexiglas, and chrome. Therefore, it is no surprise that Mugler is a big favorite of those involved in the corset and fetish worlds. His designs range from the insectoid to the medieval, from the fantastic to the science fictional. His "Carapace" ensemble, created from sculpted and embossed leather and silk chiffon, trimmed with beads and feathers, upon which he collaborated with leather designer Abel Villareal, resembles nothing if not the body armor of a medieval knight.
The London-based House of Harlot often works with Mugler to create outfits and accessories for his catwalk shows. Few if any designers have used rubber in such a provocative and consequential way. He has also worked with everything from taffeta, lace, muslin, and raffia to coconut fibers, chrome, latex, and color-changing, temperature-sensitive plastic. Difficult to characterize and appearing to work in opposition to current fashion and intellectual trends, Mugler has remained a controversial figure on the fashion scene.
Mugler's photographic talent may prove to be as important as his fashion designs. A book of his photographs, Thierry Mugler, Photographer, published in 1988, contained images comparable in their artifice, explosive glamor, and formal control to the cinematic images of Peter Greenaway. His photographs exploit grand vistas, deep interior spaces, and heroic monuments as settings upon which models perch like tiny ornaments, strongly defined by the extravagant outline of their costumes and asserting their presence through dramatic pose and gesture. His fashion photographs provide a narrative framework for Mugler's clothes, while relegating them to the role of costume within a larger dramatic context.
The broad-shouldered Russian collection of 1986, for example, was presented against backgrounds of heroic Soviet monuments or sweeping landscapes reminiscent of earlier 20th-century Social Realist painting and poster art. Mugler has also made photographic collages repeating and emphasizing the formal elements of his clothes in kaleidoscopic compositions that revealed his interest in abstract aesthetics. These images were conceived as pure works of art, in which the clothing became an element of the creative whole.
Not content to dabble just in clothing design and photography, Mugler introduced his first fragrance in 1993. Called Angel, it is a blue-hued, oriental scent with essences of chocolate, caramel, honey, and vanilla with sensual wooded notes. Favored by music diva Diana Ross, the scent comes in a five-pointed star-shaped bottle. A second fragrance, Amen, followed some years later.
In 1994, Mugler worked on the film Prêt-á-Porter, starring Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins, a complicated film following about a half-dozen plots, all circling around the death of a much-hated leader in the fashion world.
Mugler's clothes are designed to be performed in. His major catwalk shows—featuring top models such as Esther Canadas— beginning in 1977, have been choreographed like the great Hollywood musicals of Busby Berkeley. Later exhibitions were held in huge sports stadiums, emulating the highly charged atmosphere of rock concerts. Mugler designs the offstage wardrobes of rock celebrities such as Madonna, as well as dressing famous women like Danielle Mitterand, who require a more dignified appearance. His fall 2000 showing at the Louvre mixed demure organza and georgette evening dresses with outlandish latex and fluorescent creations.
Whether aggressively vulgar or caricatures of sobriety, Mugler's designs are consistently body conscious. His clothes can be read as essays in the aesthetic potential of extreme proportions; shoulder widths three times head height, wasp waists, and panniered hips are among the repertoire of distortions and exaggerations of the human figure to be found among his designs. Mugler's annual collections, for both women and men, consistently aim to provoke through their challenging themes and flamboyant formal qualities.
updated by Daryl F. Mallett