THIERRY MUGLER: COUTURISSIME
May 25, 2020 – February 28, 2021
For the first time in Germany, the Kunsthalle München is presenting an exhibition about the French creator Thierry Mugler. It is initiated, produced and circulated by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), in collaboration with the Maison Mugler which restored the designer’s heritage couture. The exhibition is curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot under the direction of Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
This spectacularly staged retrospective presents the multifaceted work of this visionary couturier, director, photographer and perfumer. It showcases more than 150 haute couture and prêt-à-porter outfits, stage costumes and accessories, videos, photographs, design sketches, and archival material created between 1977 and 2014. Some 100 works by famous fashion photographers who have staged Mugler’s creations, from Helmut Newton (1920–2004) to David LaChapelle (*1963), round out the exhibition.
In the early 1970s, Mugler, who was trained as a classical ballet dancer, revolutionized
fashion by countering the flowing bohemian looks of the hippie era with morphological and futuristic cuts as well as sculptural, elegant, and form-fitting silhouettes. With his designs, Mugler lent heroic strength to the people he once described as „fragile, beautiful creatures“.
In times of cocooning, of retreating from a world perceived as unmanageable and threatening into a domestic private life, Mugler created glamorous armor that transformed women into superheroines by borrowing from the world of animals and myths as well as from the universe of modern technology and architecture. He experimented with innovative materials such as metal, Plexiglas, fake fur, vinyl and latex. „My only measure is excess,“ said Mugler of his extravagant creations.
His designs were worn by stars such as Diana Ross (*1944), Liza Minelli (*1946), David Bowie (1947–2016), Céline Dion (*1968) and Lady Gaga (*1986); he also created costumes for tours and videos of stars like Beyoncé (*1981).
Mugler recruited collaborators from all over the world to realize his fantastic ideas, including car painters and leather craftsmen, printing technicians, photographers, scientists, and artists. His fashion is characterized by a sophisticated mixture of high and popular culture, in which refined haute couture meets drag show drama. It moves between elitism and mass appeal, between tradition and transgression.
A brilliant storyteller with a penchant for theatrical performance, Mugler has created some of the most spectacular fashion shows of his time. He designed costumes for the production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth put on by the Comédie-Française and the Festival d’Avignon, as well as for Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity. He also staged his own revues, such as the Mugler Follies in Paris and The Wyld at Berlin’s Friedrichstadt-Palast.
As a photographer and filmmaker, he directed the video clip „Too Funky“ by British singer George Michael (1963–2016) as well as short films with Isabelle Huppert (*1953) and Juliette Binoche (*1964). Mugler’s work is distinguished by numerous collaborations with big names of the art world – such as interior designer Andrée Putman (1935–2013) and well-known photographers like Helmut Newton (1920–2004), Guy Bourdin (1928–1991), Dominique Issermann (*1947), Herb Ritts (1952–2002), Ellen von Unwerth (*1954), David LaChapelle (*1963) and Pierre & Gilles (*1950 and *1953).
The exhibition presents the various aspects of Mugler’s art as a sequence of eight opera acts.
ACT I – FUTURISTIC & FEMBOT COUTURE
By creating futuristic, aerodynamic and robotic looks that radiate superhuman strength, Mugler directs attention to the relationship between man and machine. His cyborgs and chassis-outfitted characters are harbingers of the transhuman revolution that shapes our everyday life. The designer was inspired by science fiction and comic heroines as well as by medieval armor and uniforms, industrial design, and futuristic vehicles.
ACT II – STARS & SPARKLES. STAGING FASHION
„My only true vocation is the stage.“ In the conviction that fashion must be shown in a musical and theatrical setting, Mugler justified the principle of the fashion show as a spectacle. In 1984, he opened a stunning show at the Paris Zenith, a veritable fashion opera, for 6000 people. His catwalk became a stage for musical comedies, scenes from comics, Hollywood movies, and glamorous cabaret shows. He also introduced the trend of having stars model at fashion shows.
ACT III – TOO FUNKY
The music video for the famous song „Too Funky“ by British pop star George Michael (1963–2016) was released in 1992; it marked the beginning of Mugler’s career as a video director. The song appeared on the charity album Red Hot + Dance, which was intended to raise funds for the fight against AIDS – a cause supported by both the singer and the designer.
ACT IV – BELLE DE JOUR | BELLE DE NUIT
Amidst the hippie movement, Mugler countered the flower power and ethnic looks of the early 1970s with the invention of his „glamazon“– a modern, stylish, urban, and unconventional woman. She distinguished herself through bold, figure-hugging cuts, architectural silhouettes and innovative materials, and developed the concept of power dressing. From then on, the power of female seduction went hand in hand with professional success.
ACT V – MACBETH
July 6, 1985 was the opening night of the Avignon Festival, in which the Comédie-Française put on a new production of William Shakespeare’s famous Macbeth. Influenced by his own theater experience as a dancer and his fascination for opulently staged productions, Mugler designed over 70 costumes and accessories for this play. He had been given the largest budget for this purpose since the company’s founding in 1680.
ACT VI – BEYOND FASHION: MUGLER BEHIND THE LENS
The trigger for Mugler’s interest in photography came about in 1976, when he asked Helmut Newton (1920–2004) to do an advertising campaign for him. Mugler interfered so much during the shoots, however, that Newton finally told him he should do it himself – which the designer did. While Mugler continued his collaboration with Newton for over 20 years, he also developed his own unique visual language for campaigns. Playing with proportions and perspectives, his photographic dramatizations often set his models in monumental settings, where they appeared to be miniature figures. Marked by the memory of the Gothic cathedral of his Strasbourg childhood as well as by Art Deco, Soviet, and futuristic aesthetics, Mugler photographed his muses in inaccessible places like the icebergs of Greenland, the dunes of the Sahara or the dizzying heights of the Chrysler building.
All pictures: sl4artglobal