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PARIS — Thierry Mugler is pinning its fashion future on David Koma, a buzzy, London-based designer of Georgian descent known for sexy, sculptural creations.
This story first appeared in the December 13, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The French firm, controlled by Groupe Clarins, will reveal today that Koma, 28, is its new artistic director of women’s ready-to-wear.
He starts Jan. 2 and is to present his first Mugler collection for the resort season in June, with his runway debut in September during Paris Fashion Week.
“We want to write a new page for Mugler, putting it back on the map in the fashion business,” said Virginie Courtin-Clarins, director of development, marketing and communications at Mugler Fashion. “We have the potential to modernize it and I think the potential is huge.”
She called Koma’s body-conscious approach “in the same line as the Mugler DNA, yet he has his own modern and unique vision of a woman.”
Koma succeeds Nicola Formichetti, who exited Mugler in April and joined Diesel as artistic director. The celebrity and magazine stylist logged a two-year stint at Mugler, leveraging his close rapport with Lady Gaga to generate buzz at the brand.
Courtin-Clarins said Koma’s arrival marks the first step in rebranding Mugler, returning the brand to its roots in women’s ready-to-wear.
“We agreed that we wanted a real couturier,” she said in an exclusive interview. “We feel we need to focus on the product, and that’s why we’re starting with the pre-collection.”
She said it was too soon to give projections for the business, but made it clear that Mugler is serious about marketing “wearable and desirable” clothes, and not dabbling in fashion purely to create an image and fan fragrance sales. “We are very focused now on wholesale,” she said. “We have an existing clientele, and we are going to grow the distribution in a strategic way.”
A fashion wunderkind, Koma said he started sketching fashions at age eight and happened upon a television program about Mugler when he was 12 and living in St. Petersburg. “I recorded it and watched it again and again. I was completely blown away,” he recalled. “I think the style is very distinctive and very powerful.”
Koma went on to study fine art in the Russian city and design his first collection at 15. He moved to London in 2003 to study at Central Saint Martins and graduated with a master’s degree in 2009. He launched a signature fashion house and immediately demonstrated a fascination with architectural shapes and spectacular embellishments.
The young talent quickly earned a following among pop stars including Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue and Alicia Keys.
While he said he’s never referenced Mugler collections directly, “in general, the anatomic approach to pattern-cutting and the sculptural nature of the female form is one of the key elements with my designs.”
Today, he sells his collection to about 55 retailers, including Browns Focus in the U.K., Luisa Via Roma in Italy, Joyce in Hong Kong, Tsum in Moscow and Ikram and H. Lorenzo in the U.S. He plans to continue showing his label during London Fashion Week and divide his time between that city and the French capital.
Mugler did not disclose details about Koma’s contract, but Courtin-Clarins characterized it as a “long-term partnership.”
The granddaughter of Clarins founder Jacques Courtin-Clarins, she is part of the new guard at Mugler following the exit earlier this year of Joël Palix, longtime president of the Groupe Clarins fragrance division, which comprises brands such as Azzaro and Swarovski, in addition to Mugler.
Sandrine Groslier is now chief executive officer of Thierry Mugler fragrances and fashion.
Strasbourg, France-born Mugler trained as a classical dancer, and founded his fashion house in 1974 at 25, earning fast acclaim for his futuristic and hyperfeminine designs. He went on to create a series of successful scents with Clarins, staring in 1992 with Angel, a blockbuster that endures as one of the world’s top-selling fragrances.
However, Mugler’s fashions lost momentum and resonance in the minimalist Nineties and, in 2003, Clarins shuttered the money-losing rtw business and focused mostly on building its fragrance portfolio, creating Alien in 2005, and following in 2010 with Womanity.
Mugler quietly resuscitated its women’s wear line in 2008, tapping Rosemary Rodriguez, a Mugler alum who had previously been at Paco Rabanne, as creative director for women’s wear and men’s wear.
The founder, who goes by the name “Manfred” these days, is focused on other projects, headlined by his “Mugler Follies” revue that opened here this week involving dancers, acrobats, singers, actors, models and other performers in an array of otherworldly costumes and sets. Courtin-Clarins noted he would remain a consultant.
Meanwhile, the Mugler perfume business powers ahead, having grown by more than 50 percent over the last three years, driven by sales of Angel and Alien.
Industry sources estimate the brand overall generates $800 million in retail sales annually, with 90 to 95 percent stemming from fragrance and the rest split between rtw and accessories.