PARIS — A visionary.
That is how designers, industry executives and others on Monday described Manfred Thierry Mugler, who helped define ’80s power dressing, launched the phenomenon of celebrities-as-models, and introduced a new fragrance category with Angel, who died late Sunday at the age of 73.
“We are devastated to announce the passing of Mr. Manfred Thierry Mugler on Sunday, January 23rd 2022. May his soul Rest in Peace,” said a statement on his official Instagram account accompanied by a black square.
Mugler died in Vincennes, on the outskirts of Paris, of natural causes, his manager Jean-Baptiste Rougeot said in a statement. “A communication about his funeral will be made later in agreement with his family,” he added.
During his multidecade career, Mugler staged catwalk extravaganzas featuring the likes of Diana Ross, Tippi Hedren and Jerry Hall and, more recently, the designer created stage and red carpet outfits for Beyoncé, Cardi B and Kim Kardashian West. The latter made waves with her wet-look latex corseted dress at the 2019 Met Gala.
Mugler, who began his career as a dancer, was one of the first designers to fling open the doors of a fashion show to members of the public, with a mega-event at the Zenith concert venue in 1984. He pushed the boundaries of clothing construction by working with materials like latex, metal and feathers.
He photographed his own advertising campaigns and crossed over into showbiz by directing the video for George Michael’s “Too Funky”; collaborating with the Cirque du Soleil on its “Zumanity” show in Las Vegas, and creating the cabaret revue “Mugler Follies” in Paris.
When Mugler retired from fashion in 2002, he stepped back from the industry to focus on fragrances and costume design, reverting to his birth name Manfred and embarking on a radical physical transformation through plastic surgery and bodybuilding.
Tributes poured in on Monday from across the fashion, beauty and cultural spaces.
“Thierry Mugler is part of that generation of fashion designers of the ‘70s and ‘80s who revolutionized ready-to-wear,” Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, said in a statement.
Mugler was notably “at the origin of power dressing, a wardrobe intended to dress this new generation of women claiming to be men’s equals,” said Toledano. “I have fond memories of his fashion shows at the Zenith or at the Cirque d’Hiver, open to thousands of spectators.”
Toledano’s predecessor at the federation, Didier Grumbach, was president of Thierry Mugler from 1978 to 1998, and described him as a mold-breaking designer who set the template for fashion shows as theatrical experiences.
“There’s no question that the way Thierry Mugler presented his collections, and the way he composed his silhouettes, was to give power to women,” Grumbach said in an interview on Monday. “I think his silhouette will survive, and this is part of his contribution to fashion.…It’s only now that he starts being eternal.”
Grumbach described Mugler as a true and complete image-maker, imposing his style with his runway spectacles and photography, and controlling the smallest detail, from the paint colors at his Paris headquarters (mauve) to the stationery. He said Mugler also stridently resisted licensing out product categories, which was a popular business strategy at the time.
“He has gone to give a makeover to angels and demons, up there! The sky was his color,” Jean Paul Gaultier said in an email, referring to Angel’s distinctive blue packaging. “Enormous talent: with his unique style, always in search of perfection!!!”
“I think Thierry Mugler influenced not only me but an entire generation and I think it’s just such sad, sad news,” said Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing. “We’ll always remember him for being a big inspiration to break boundaries from the beginning and bringing a big audience and making the fashion industry more popular to the public. It was amazing how he was generous in his creativity and in his way of showing fashion to the world.”
The news took Patou artistic director Guillaume Henry back to 1999 when, as a fashion student at the Duperré school, he sneaked into the Carrousel du Louvre to see a Mugler show — his first taste of a true runway spectacle.
“It was crazy, hysteria. There were no phones then — people were standing up, shouting. It was a true celebration – joyous and beautiful, not just a show or a fashion presentation — [that] reinforced the idea that I wanted to take part in [all this],” he said.
He would remember Mugler’s powerful vision but also his “generosity, sense of glamour, of sexy and his absolute love of women” in designs that were dramatic yet wearable. “It was theatrical on the runway but you could ‘Muglerize’ yourself on the street with a shoulder, the cut of a skirt…and a Mugler dress is [only] finished when it’s worn,” said Henry.
Former model Farida Khelfa said Mugler was one of the first designers to put her on the runway at his extravagant, groundbreaking shows. “It was pure craziness. He had an exceptional talent,” she said at the Schiaparelli show on Monday morning.
“He was a photographer, a director, a couturier, a dancer, so he had many lives. His life was a novel, and it’s really sad, but at the same time it’s a strong message to fashion: wake up guys, look at what came before you, how beautiful it was,” she added. “He had a great life and he did everything he wanted without listening to what others thought. He was a free man, that’s what I loved about him.”
“He marked spirits, including my own, in the early ‘80s,” said Xuly Bët’s Lamine Kouyaté. “In my mind, alongside Alaïa, he was responsible for modernizing couture.”
One of the stars of Paris, Mugler was the first designer invited to be a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale des Couturiers.
At the height of his powers, the designer boasted around 30 boutiques worldwide, his influence stretching from Japan to the U.S., where Bloomingdale’s mounted a massive fashion show in 1991.
Born in Strasbourg, France, he started his fashion career in London, where he contributed to the Swinging ’60s look of the trendy boutiques at that time. “It was creative, inventive and fun, and above all, it was a real social scene. On Saturday afternoons, all the young people strutted down King’s Road in incredible outfits,” he told WWD in a recent interview.
Later came Paris, which he cited as having influenced his streamlined, body-conscious aesthetic, describing Cristóbal Balenciaga and Christian Dior as his “masters in fashion.”
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but fashion took off for me very quickly in Paris, as soon as I showed my sketches,” he recalled. “Back then, fashion was in full folklore mode. Kenzo was all the rage, so you had Peruvian influences, Indian influences and what have you. It was all very folkloric, and all I wanted to do was this very pure, Parisian silhouette: the little black suit, the trenchcoat, the black dress, the siren dress. I did the first nude body-conscious dress. Nobody was doing nude at that time. My first ready-to-wear line was called Café de Paris, and it was all about a very precise, streamlined silhouette, very strongly influenced by dance.”
He officially stopped designing clothing in 2002 when Clarins shuttered his ready to wear brand, but remained in the perfume business. The rtw brand made a comeback in 2010 as Mugler.
When he spoke with WWD in September, Mugler said he had some new fragrances in the works, and was focusing on a personal exhibition of collages and photos for a gallery in Berlin, as well as continuing designing for the ballet.
The designer is the subject of an ongoing retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, which opened in September with a party attended by Cardi B.
“Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” is the first major exhibition in the French capital dedicated to the designer, and is scheduled to run through April 24. The display, which made its debut at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts in 2019, has also made stops in Rotterdam and Munich.
“I’m very happy that such a harmonious selection of my work is being shown at the Arts Décoratifs, because my work is closely tied to sculpture, painting and all the other decorative arts,” Mugler said of the retrospective.
The exhibition groups around 150 garments made between 1977 and 2014, along with a wealth of photographs from one of the seminal image-makers of the ‘80s, who reinvented the fashion show as Broadway-style spectacles.
“He was ahead of his time in many ways, from the phenomenon of celebrity-as-model to his relationship with the music world, and the cultural impact of fashion in contemporary society,” Olivier Gabet, director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, noted in a September conversation with WWD.
“He was one of those people who wasn’t formatted by a marketing strategy, though he was a master at communication,” he added. “It was intuitive, intelligent, artistic, animal sometimes, and I find that quite refreshing.”
Thierry-Maxime Loriot, the curator of the exhibition, said he was devastated to learn of Mugler’s death.
“A true avant-garde artist, his work proved that you did not have to follow trends to become popular: you had to be who you truly are. He created a fashion that is timeless, filled with humanism, and humor, his work was about celebrating individualities that influenced many generations,” he told WWD.
“He broke the taboos and the codes of the fashion industry, revolutionized haute couture with groundbreaking inventions, and wrote fashion history — without knowing it — season after season, by following his instinct and empowering men and women with his metamorphosis. He left us like a shooting star, in all his glory, celebrated with a major retrospective which represents his unique legacy,” he added.
To commemorate the designer, the Musée des Art Décoratifs announced that access to the exhibition would be free of charge from 2 until 9 p.m. on Monday, by reservation.
At the Dior haute couture show on Monday afternoon, former French culture minister Jack Lang lamented the passing of his friend, whose “art of sculpting the body of women was unique,” and with whom he shared “so many stories that tied us together, like the [now-defunct] Oscars de la Mode fashion awards or dressing [then-French First Lady] Danielle Mitterand to help French fashion for state visits abroad.”
“We’d seen less of each other since he moved to Berlin but [I] saw him for the exhibition at the Arts Décoratifs, one of his great joys, I believe,” said the retired politician, who famously wore a collarless “very simple, almost austere jacket” designed by Mugler to the French National Assembly, where he was booed for this then-radical fashion choice. The jacket is part of the Mugler exhibit.
To the broader public, the designer was arguably best known for his fragrances, with which he broke just as many boundaries as he did in fashion. Like many, this was how Simon Porte Jacquemus discovered the designer at a tender age.
“My first memory was of his fragrance. At the end of the ‘90s there was a guy in the schoolyard who was playing football, who already wore A*Men, and that was my first crush. It’s always strange when I smell that,” the designer mused at the Schiaparelli show.
It was with A*Men’s feminine counterpart, Angel, that Mugler became a household name.
Launched in 1992, the iconic and esoteric perfume was Group Clarins’ first fragrance, and was considered a groundbreaking achievement in the industry for its innovative “edible” accords, including a chocolate note, and the coherence of its advertising, packaging and merchandising with the designer’s image.
No market testing was done on the fragrance prior to launch. It came in a bottle shaped like a star and lay on its side. Nothing like it had been seen before. After two years of slow but steady sales growth, Angel started becoming a classic.
In the late ‘90s, Angel topped Chanel No.5 in the prestige rankings in France, and achieved leading positions in many countries for decades following its introduction.
Vera Strubi, who launched Angel and retired at the end of 2006 as president of Thierry Mugler Parfums Worldwide, convinced Mugler that he should base his perfume on themes present in his fashion shows.
“The theme of Angels was the highlight of his show in 1984 open to the public at the Zenith,” she said. “Another theme which appeared throughout all his universe was the star — on buttons of his clothes, present in a lot of accessories — therefore, the perfume bottle in the form of a star. Both symbols universal and emotional!”
Strubi said: “Thierry Mugler not only inspired our perfume team, he was and will remain an icon of the fashion industry. I’m very sad about his death. A genius has left us and leaves us humble humans without his creativity, his energy and endless surprises.”
L’Oréal, which acquired the Mugler brands from Groupe Clarins in March 2020, called Thierry Mugler “a true visionary without whom the fashion and beauty world would not have been the same.”
“Manfred Thierry Mugler was always ahead of his time, and his creations have inspired a whole generation of new designers,” Nicolas Hieronimus, chief executive officer of L’Oréal, said in a statement.
“An unwavering and committed pioneer of diversity, inclusion and gender equality, his designs explored new territory, calling each of us to freely define our own identity and proudly become the person we want to be,” he added.
“This is a moment of deep emotion and great sadness for the teams at the Maison Mugler,” said Sandrine Groslier, global president of Mugler Fashion & Fragrance at L’Oréal, who worked alongside Mugler for 27 years.
“I remember him as a genius who revolutionized the world of fashion, fragrances, photography and staging. An artist for whom the limit was no limit. An exceptionally talented, visionary and inclusive genius. Beyond being a creator with infinite energy and a boundless sense of creativity, I wish above all to pay tribute to the sensitive, generous and sincere man. We are thinking today of all those who, like us, love him and have lost their star,” she said in a statement from the house.
Joël Palix, who also formerly led Thierry Mugler’s fragrance and fashion business at Clarins, and now runs his boutique consultancy Palix Unlimited, recalled Mugler’s maxim: “My measure is excess.”
“It was a favorite motto that he applied to his fashion as well as to his life and work. Everything about him was excess and the search for perfection, everything was a challenge,” said Palix.
“He was a designer of fabulous fashion and shows, but he also had an extraordinarily developed and original nose, participating in all our olfactive meetings to choose those singular ‘gourmand’ vanilla and patchouli notes for Angel, and the audacious cashmeran and jasmine accord for Alien.”
Palix remembered Mugler meeting Naomi Watts and Eva Mendes — some talents that had been selected to front Angel. “He reversed the roles, playing on his status of legendary designer and interviewed the actresses, asking them for an incredible performance,” said Palix.
Then there was the suite reserved for Mugler at Le Meurice hotel in Paris, where he met Beyoncé. “The enormous patience deployed so that he agreed to make the costumes for her 2009 world tour, which marked his return to stage fashion,” said Palix.
Mugler’s imagination was transformative for perfumery, according to Michael Edwards, fragrance historian and author.
“From the start, Angel was designed to be a perfume like no other. ‘I want something mouth-watering and tasty, which reminds of my childhood,’” Edwards recalled him saying, adding the designer specified it should be “the scent of a fairground, candy floss, little cakes, chocolates, caramels and things like that.”
“Mugler loved the name Angel; it had a touch of heaven and earth,” said Edwards.
He quoted Mugler as saying: “Every star has its guardian angel, and every woman is an angel. What kind of angel? That’s for us to choose. We can look like an angel one minute, and be a little devil the next.”
Angel has always been a divisive fragrance: Some find it shocking, while others are addicted. “Its sheer originality mirrored the designer’s fashion philosophy: ‘To dress is to step into the limelight,’ he said, adding that Mugler’s legacy of olfactive desserts continues to captivate perfumers. “There’s a new star in the sky,” he said.
Reactions also poured in on social media.
Casey Cadwallader, the current creative director at the house of Mugler, wrote on Instagram: “You changed our perception of beauty, of confidence, of representation and self empowerment. Your legacy is something I carry with me in everything I do.”
Nicola Formichetti, who helmed the Mugler couture house for two years from March 2011, shared some of Mugler’s most iconic fashion moments, writing: “Thank you for inspiring the world with your vision. You helped shape me to be the artist I am today. Forever grateful.”
Burberry’s chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci credited Mugler for having inspired his fashion career. “Lately I’ve been losing too many people that were close to me. Thierry you are definitely one of them. You started as a hero, my deepest inspiration, and the one that showed the world how to be inclusive in every sense throughout your art and genius,” he wrote.
“Then the most incredible thing happened…we crossed paths and became friends, it was such an honor to know you, to love you and be loved by you genuinely. You will be very missed but fly high new angel and be surrounded by the same joy you were spreading on earth. BYE BYE ANGEL,” he added.
Marc Jacobs posted an image of Jerry Hall modeling a Mugler look in 1980 at the runway show held at New York’s Bonds Disco nightclub, describing it as “a major life changer.”
“Never had I seen or experienced anything like it. The Glamour! The Fashion! The Women! The extraordinary execution of an out of this world dream by fashion’s most incredible showman. Thank you for sharing your wildest fantasies. Rest In Peace Manfred Thierry Mugler,” Jacobs wrote.
Designer Fausto Puglisi posted a black and white portrait of the late designer flanked by a caption reading: “The Dream! The Angel! The God! Rest in POWER! I will love you forever! You were my hero.”Sharing a picture of a Mugler’s photography book bearing an inscription by the late designer, Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott recalled being inspired by him in his early days on the Paris fashion scene. “So sad to hear the passing of another one of fashion’s greats. His singular vision of icy perfection, pop culture humor doused with Old Hollywood glamour was an infectious fashion concoction that I admired,” he wrote.
“I was fortunate enough to see one of his shows in person when I had just started to make a name for myself in Paris. I brought a copy I owned of his book of photography that I cherished and asked him to sign it for me after the show. He was so magnanimous and generous with his words of encouragement to me. I will cherish my autographed copy of his book and the moments we spent together forever,” he said.
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