A Tribute to Manfred Thierry Mugler

by Cyana Madsen on 24 January 2022

SHOWstudio remembers the indelible impact of the visionary couturier.

SHOWstudio remembers the indelible impact of the visionary couturier.

Manfred Thierry Mugler, the multi-hyphenate creator and artist who became synonymous with “power dressing” in the 1980s, has died at the age of 73. Born in Strasbourg in 1948, Mugler was a prodigious ballet dancer, joining the Alsatian Ballet Du Rhin company at the age of 14, laying the groundwork for a life and career which emphasised the power and limitlessness of the human body.

Manfred Thierry Mugler, Reinier RDVA ©2021
Mugler’s words capture the essence of his art, of which his own body was at the centre: using the force of technology to harness the intensity and spectacle of nature.

Mugler arrived in Paris aged 20 getting his start in fashion as a freelance designer. Within five years had created his first ready-to-wear collection Café de Paris, taking inspiration from the exaggerated silhouettes of womenswear in the 1940s. Although the house of Mugler expanded to menswear in 1978, it was his shaping of the female form through clothing that became his signature and a source of criticism from those who saw his most severe wasp-waist corseted suits as reductive.

Mugler countered this criticism by paying it no mind: obsessed with the dichotomy of the natural world and human advancement, he transformed his models into exotic insects, pearl-bearing oysters, broad-shouldered femme fatales and as with his 1992 Motorcycle Corset, human-machine hybrids. He was part of a cohort (including Claude Montana and Azzedine Alaïa) attuned to the paradoxical nature of moving through the world in female form, and the potential for clothing to be both an instrument of allure and a suit of armour.

"The Venus Dress" Thierry Mugler S/S 95, Daniel Simon/Getty Images

The Thierry Mugler label closed in 2002, with Mugler citing the frenetic commercial pace of the industry as a reason for his withdrawing from fashion: for a designer painstakingly reimagining the dimensions of the human form, the perpetual cycle of seasons was stifling. His focus shifted to artistic direction and costume design for the Comédie-Française, Cirque du Soleil, Beyoncé’s 2009 I Am… world tour, and a return to his dance roots with the McGREGOR + MUGLER collaboration in 2019 with choreographer Wayne McGregor.

Although the Mugler ready-to-wear label relaunched in 2010, the man Mugler focused on dressing individuals, with archival couture on Cardi B and custom designs for Kim Kardashian reigniting pop culture’s interest in his constructions. The first major exhibition of his designs, Thierry Mugler: Couturissime curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot opened in Montreal in 2019 and toured through Rotterdam and Munich before landing at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Finally, it seemed that the cultural conversation around self-actualisation and autonomy had caught up with his life’s work of creating fantastic bodily dimensions. His own appearance reflected this, as he remade himself through athletic and surgical interventions into a type of heroic character, complete with hulking body and monolithic face.

"Baie de Disko, Groenland, 1987", Manfred Thierry Mugler

Mugler documented his lifelong creative journey through photography, shooting his own campaigns, as in the the 1995 Angel fragrance ad with Jerry Hall draped across a rippling white sand dune. The fascination with proportion seen in his clothing designs was reflected in his monumental photos. He showed his models as minute and fragile, sprawling on the metal outcropping of the Chrysler Building stories above NYC traffic, floating among massive icebergs in the Greenland Sea and perching on the edge of the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali. Taking the bombastic iconography last used in the propaganda photos of communist and facist regimes, Mugler instead used this juxtaposition of impermanent flesh and clothing against the architectural wonders of the natural and man-made world creating images highlighting the vulnerability and beauty of humanity.

"Erg Medjehebat, Algerian Sahara, 1988", Manfred Thierry Mugler

On the release of his collection of photos, Manfred Thierry Mugler, Photographer in 2020, Mugler told Vogue “Taking a photograph is like making a pact with God; you wait and you wait and trust that you will be given the right light and the right gesture at the right moment.” Mugler’s words capture the essence of his art, of which his own body was at the centre: using the force of technology to harness the intensity and spectacle of nature.

"Chrysler Tower, New York, USA, 1988", Manfred Thierry Mugler
"Église Capilla en Tlalpan, Mexique, par Luis Barragan, 1985", Manfred Thierry Mugler
"Volgograd campaign, Russia, 1986", Manfred Thierry Mugler



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