In memory of the designer Manfred Thierry Mugler
Style Points is a weekly column on how fashion intersects with the rest of the world.
For his “Buick” fall 1989 collection, Manfred Thierry Mugler transformed women into racing cars. Dressed in puffy mannequin silhouettes that resembled high-design 1950s automobiles, her models strutted around in their hubcap bra cups and fender peplums. They shared the tough looks of the women in Tamara de Lempicka’s paintings, all chrome finishes and conspiratorial giggles. The cars of the time had been modeled on feminine curves in an attempt to humanize the machines; now Mugler was reverse engineering the equation. This show could have been the ultimate expression of his vision – the female body celebrated and transformed into something both commercial and dreamy conceptual.
The late 80s and early 90s were bastions of extreme body awareness and extreme track theatrics. And the French designer, who died yesterday at 73, lived in the Venn diagram in between. Underrated, in every sense of the word, he was not. Welding together surrealism, sci-fi and old Hollywood, his designs always soared to 11. He loved a larger-than-life, incredibly glamorous woman – Naomi Campbell, Jerry Hall and Iman populated his shows – and delighted in his dress on the frontier – pushing pop icons from Diana Ross to Madonna. His shows turned women into insects, motorcycles and mermaids or turned them into archetypes, from angels to androids.
Even as fashion began its mid-’90s shift towards low-key, understated minimalism, with interchangeable models preferring to parade down a catwalk rather than vampirize, its approach remained as exaggerated and exaggerated as its famously intoxicating fragrance Angel. Wasp waists, towering hairstyles, metallic exoskeleton-like bustiers, and a low-back neckline that would make McQueen’s bumster look tame were some of the offerings on her sartorial menu. Too much was never enough. It’s no exaggeration to say that the extreme celebrity and pop star fashion statements we’ve seen since then owe a debt to her imaginative audacity.
Even after leaving the label in 2001 to focus on designing for the stage, Mugler’s gold mine of vintage treasures continued to be an inspiration, not to mention a badge of fashion credibility. . Celebrities like Cardi B and Kim Kardashian, who could have stepped out in any current designer they wanted, flocked to her 80s and 90s looks, respectively the Botticelli-inspired Venus dress and an NC-17 reboot of the creation he made for Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal. (Mugler also came out of semi-retirement to create a pearly, wet-look dress for Kardashian to wear to the Met Gala.) But those enduring pieces are far from the only stamp he’s put on fashion. The house that bears her name continues to dress a new generation of risk-taking pop icons, from Miley Cyrus to Dua Lipa, all proudly carrying on that OTT legacy.
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