Thierry Mugler has been called “The Prophet of Futurism”. Throughout his career, Mugler has dominated the fashion and art world with his diverse creative talents including fashion and fragrance collections, stage shows, artistic photography and music videos.
Thierry Mugler was born in Strasbourg, France in 1948. He was a rebellious child who had a hard time living in the world that was imposed on him. He dreamed of creating other worlds that were his alone and consequently spent most of his time writing plays, making costumes and going to the cinema. He designed his first outfit for a girlfriend at the age of 14 and made many more creations for himself. He was accepted into the Decorative Arts School in Strasbourg, two years before the usual minimum age. But few months later, he quit and decided to join a ballet company — the Opera du Rhin. On his meagre ballet dancer’s salary, he was able to leave his family home and rent a small room in town. In a few years at the age of 20, he moved on to Paris in search of a contemporary dance company.
“As a child, I had a very hard time living in the world that is imposed on us. I dreamed of creating another world, to my scale – one that was my own.” –Thierry Mugler
When he arrived in Paris, he was an incredibly handsome dancer with a distinctive personal style. He started working as a window dresser in a Parisian store called “Gudule”. People admired his wild clothes and he began designing fashions for others. He was heavily influenced by the punk aesthetic of the late 70s, and as he put it, by the “poisionous flowers and mischievous creatures of the mythological world”. The insect kingdom was a big influence, as were the characters of film noir. His fashions were the complete opposite of the folkloric, unstructured, “hippie” styles that were prevalent in the 70s. His designs were highly stylized, anatomical and almost architectural, but they shaped and enhanced the female figure.
In 1973 he showed his first collection for women called “Café de Paris”. Azzedine Alaia joined him and helped to design his creations until the late 70s.
In 1974, he launched his own Thierry Mugler label which was an immediate success. His first collections were picked up by Browns in London, as well as the American department stores Neimann Marcus and Saks. He began designing for men in 1978.
His work in the 70s was a precursor to the big-shouldered fashions of the 80s and in some ways set the stage for later designers like Alexander McQueen. Using leather, metal, even plastic, he sculpted and created fashion for a strong, liberated, conquering woman.
In 1984, he produced the first “super-show”, which was attended by over 6,000 spectators. It was the first fashion show in France that was open to the general public. Thierry Mugler has always stated that the art of the show is his true calling. Even today, he supervises all aspects of the music, set, lighting and choreography for his catwalk presentations.
In terms of his fashion philosophy, he believed that clothing should not be inspired by the past. His designs went against traditional fashion. Instead they had an urban, edgy feel. His close-fitting suits, rhinestone sheath dresses, and structured bustiers were made for divas, glamorous stars and sun goddesses. Mugler was always fascinated by larger-than-life heroines who symbolized metamorphosis, conquest and the future.
“I want my models to be bigger, stronger and taller than common mortals.” –Thierry Mugler
Stars who have modelled for him in the past include Diana Ross, Cyd Charisse, Tippi Hedren, Ivana Trump and former Catwoman Julie Newmar. Mugler also created the famous black dress worn by Demi Moore in the 1993 movie, Indecent Proposal.
Modern day celebrities who wear his fashions include: Gwen Stefani, Eva Mendez, Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan and Kate Upton.
Thierry Mugler embarked upon his photographic career in 1978 after a dispute with Helmut Newton. He had hired the German photographer to shoot one of his campaigns. The story goes that Newton became annoyed by Mugler’s constant interference. “I was furious that somebody should tell me how to take my photos,” recalls Newton. In the end, he suggested Mugler should take the photos himself. The designer took his advice, and now spends a great deal of his time on photography.
Mugler’s first perfume appeared in 1992 and was called Angel. “Angel” contains a combination of praline and chocolate mixed with a strong accord of patchouli. It was an innovation – a new fragrance type called “gourmand”. Angel was so wildly popular that in 1998, it toppled Chanel No. 5 from its number one slot in the French fragrance market.
In 2005, “Alien” was created, the second major Thierry Mugler fragrance. Angel and Alien together produce about $280 million in sales annually.
In 2010, the fragrance Womanity was released by the house of Mugler. It was the first fragrance to use a salty caviar accord.
Mugler developed a partnership with the French cosmetics and skincare company Clarins, who first released Angel. A*Men, his first mens’ fragrance was launched in 1997, and was also very popular. The Thierry Mugler company is now known best for its perfume division since the couture division was closed in 2003, and all Thierry Mugler ready-to-wear is produced under license agreements.
“We are probably the only brand in feminine fragrances that is so successful despite not having an active fashion line.” –Joël Palix, former president of Clarins Fragrance Group Worldwide.
Beyoncé Knowles’ UK tour in 2009 featured extreme and extravagant costumes and stage sets, many of which were designed by Mugler. Beyoncé fell in love with Mugler’s work when she was a guest at the Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where several of the designer’s pieces were included in the “Superheroes” exhibition. She was photographed for the cover of her album, I am Sasha Fierce, wearing a metal bustier painted like a customized Harley Davidson gas tank, complete with wing mirrors, throttle and handlebars. The costume was directly inspired by Thierry Mugler’s famous “Motorcycle” collection from 1992.
In 1998, Thierry Mugler was the first designer to create a virtual fashion show that could be seen on the internet — a groundbreaking use of technology.
In recent years, Mugler has turned to his other artistic interests. He has published two books featuring his fashion designs and photography: Thierry Mugler (1988) and Fashion Fetish Fantasy (1998). In 1992, Mugler directed the video for George Michael’s Too Funky, featuring a parade of Mugler fashions including the famous motorcycle dress. In the early 2000s Mugler joined forces with Cirque du Soleil on its 2003 show Zumanity at the New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. And he designed costumes for The Wyld – Out of This World, a show at the Palast Theatre in Berlin. With over one hundred artists on the world’s biggest theatre stage and a production budget of ten million euros, it is one of the most elaborate shows outside of Las Vegas. It features a BMX rider, intergalactic aliens, stellar urban tribes and the immortal Queen Nefertiti.
Thierry Mugler once said: “I want my models to be bigger, stronger and taller than common mortals.”
Not content to be a mere mortal himself, today he spends untold hours in the gym to sculpt his body into the form of a god. In addition to his varied artistic pursuits, it’s almost as if he is making himself into an work of art. It’s clear that his passion, daring, and drive for perfection are as much a part of him today as they were in his rebellious youth.