PARIS — French designer Manfred Thierry Mugler, who helped define ’80s power dressing, launched the phenomenon of celebrities-as-models, and introduced a new fragrance category with Angel, has died 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. No further details were immediately available.
During his multidecade career, he worked with the likes of Diana Ross, Tippi Hedren and Demi Moore and, more recently, the designer created 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 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.
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.
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 rtw brand, but remained in the perfume business. The ready-to-wear 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 also 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. 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,” he 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 starring the likes of Diana Ross and Jerry Hall.
“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 humour, 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.
Sandrine Groslier, global brand president Mugler fashion and fragrances, worked alongside Mugler for 27 years, calling him a “genius jack-of-all-trades” who marked the world of fashion and beauty forever. “He was funny, passionate, crazy at times, and he always knew how to pay tribute with a lot of emotion to all women,” she wrote on Instagram. “You have reached the stars. Rest in peace Mr Mugler.”
Casey Cadwallader, the current creative director at the house of Mugler, wrote on Instagram: “Manfred, I am so honored to have known you and to work within your beautiful world. 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. Thank you.”