Cake & Caviar

Expo: Retrospective on iconic fashion designer Thierry Mugler

Thierry Mugler: Couturissime in Kunsthal Rotterdam until 8 March 2020

French creator Thierry Mugler left fashion in 2002 but he did not stop working, far from that. The important thing to consider is that Mugler is not only a fashion designer – he is an artist with many talents and ever so many passions. He was a ballet dancer from the age of 14 at the Ballet de l’Opéra du Rhin and went on working as a couturier, photographer, stylist, perfumer and director.

Mugler has collaborated with celebrities such as David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and George Michael. Since the couturier stepped away from the Mugler label, he has been going by his birthname Manfred Thierry Mugler, as to make the difference between the man and the brand.

Thierry Mugler retrospective
Manfred Thierry Mugler, creator. Photo: © Max Abadian

Through Montreal to Rotterdam

Mugler was born in Strasbourg in 1948 and founded his eponymous label in 1974. He has been known to constantly push the boundaries of fashion with his innovative designs. His work is revolutionary and the man behind the work even more so. And he’s stubborn too! He turned down proposals for an exhibit from some of the world’s leading museums like the Met and the Victoria and Albert Museum over the years until he met Nathalie Bondil, director general and chief curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

“I have always been fascinated by the most beautiful animal on Earth: the human being. I have used all of the tools at my disposal to sublimate this creature: fashion, shows, perfumes, photography, video… I am not a person who dwells in the past, but the MMFA, through Nathalie Bondil, was the first to propose to me to stage my creations and imagine together a free, global and reinvented artistic vision. How could I refuse?” said creator Manfred Thierry Mugler.

Act II: Stars & Sparkles in Kunsthal

The exhibition’s world premiere launched in Montreal in March 2019 and now the Kunsthal Rotterdam is the second stop (and the first venue in Europe) to show this spectacular retrospective. Thierry Mugler: Couturissime was curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot. Loriot often works on the convergence of art and fashion.

The show must go on

For me, Mugler is a performer before anything else. Not because he performed as a dancer but because of the theatrical elements in all of his work whether it’s a photograph, a fashionshow or the costume designs for a musical. Thierry Mugler: Couturissime has also been addressed as a theater play, in six acts, which undeniably makes sense.

manfred thierry mugler
Couturissime in Kunsthal

As theatrical as Mugler’s designs are, they are equally feminine and sexy as hell. His elegant designs often involve corsets, small waists, big shoulders and even fetish elements at time. Mugler’s woman is sensual and glamorous but powerful as well. She’s one of those old school superheroines!

Mugler was also the first designer to introduce theatrical elements into his runway shows. Just look at this Pat Cleveland’s performance below, as his Madonna in 1984!

The dress in Kunsthal

Sculptural designs

Manfred Thierry Mugler’s designs are true work of arts, usually sculptural – architectural even, like the dress worn by Cardi B at the Grammy Awards this year. The Venus inspired archive piece came from the Mugler’s Fall 1995 couture collection.

Cardi B at the Grammy’s via Insta Manfred Thierry Mugler

I don’t think every Mugler design is beautiful (thinking of that ugly chiffon and silicone dress that Kim Kardashian wore at the 2019 Met Gala – but it was a masterpiece nevertheless and it had her name written all over it), but everything he made is visionary and innovative which I find to be a relief in the sometimes repetitive fashion world.

Mugler used unorthodox materials in high fashion such as latex, metal and vinyl. He was one of the first, if not the first, designer to use fake fur instead of real fur. The couturier has been reinventing his futuristic cuts and avant-garde silhouettes through the years, always changing, evolving, trying new things.

Couturissime in Kunsthal

He also directs short films, advertising campaigns, video clips and he designs costumes for theater, musicals, concerts and operas regularly. Did you know he was the designer behind Demi Moore’s LBD in Indecent Proposal? Mugler’s label went under in 2003 but was brought back to life ten years later – albeit without Manfred’s involvement.

So many details!

The six acts of Couturissime

Thierry Mugler: Couturissime brings together more than 150 outfits created between 1977 and 2014, most of them on display for the first time, as well as many never-before seen accessories and stage costumes, clips and videos, archival documents and sketches. The six different sections each carry a theme.

Installation shot, Act IV: The Photographer’s Eye, 2019 Kunsthal Rotterdam, foto Marco De Swart

Photography lovers will surely enjoy the exhibit as Mugler worked with all the greats: David LaChapelle, Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Ellen von Unwerth, Guy Bourdin, just to name a few. There are about hundred photos on show. One of the spaces is solely dedicated to the collaboration between Mugler and Helmut Newton. Newton shot Mugler’s first campaign and they worked together many times throughout the years.

The expo is truly fascinating. It starts with Mugler’s work for the Comédie-Française’s adaptation of Macbeth in Avignon in 1985. You can see some of the costumes, some sketches and a gorgeous holographic installation by multimedia artist Michel Lemieux.

Thierry Mugler exhibit
Right: Bowie in the clip of Boys Keep Swinging, left: the dress in Kunsthal

Too Funky

One of the spaces is dedicated to his collaborations with various performers. Bowie was the first celeb to wear Mugler in the 70s, first during his appearance in Saturday Night Life, then in the video of Boys Keep Swinging and very often after that as well. He even wore a Mugler tux at his wedding with Iman in 92.

Mugler in Kunsthal
Emma Sjöberg during the shooting of the Too Funky video, Paris, 1992 © Patrice Stable

The famous motorcycle design (seen above) that was used for George Michael’s “Too Funky” is on display as well (this piece was worn by Beyoncé years later). It’s such an amazing piece! Mugler directed the 1990s video himself.

cirque du soleil mugler
Zumanity costume in Kunsthal

In one of the other spaces there were some incredible pieces from Cirque du Soleil’s 2003 show Zumanity. I absolutely loved those. He did not only create the costumes for the show but he also created the identity of the characters and directed one of the scenes.

Insects and robots

Head to Act V for the absolute wow factor. This fairytale space (designed by the famous visual effects firm RodeoFX) is dedicated to Mugler’s insects and animals themed work. You’ll find many designs from his Les Atlantes collection (SS’89), Les Insectes collection (SS’97) and La Chimère collection (AW’97-98). The iconic La Chimère dress that was used for the campaign poster is on display here. Act VI is super cool as well, it was designed by German visual artist and set designer Philipp Fürhofer. Very sci-fi glamour, showcasing all the futuristic and robotic designs by Thierry Mugler.

Act VI in Kunsthal

They don’t make Thierry Mugler’s nowadays anymore! The multi-disciplinary talent does not copy but he invents and creates. He said during the preview that ‘the Instagram era’ tends to forget to be different. They copy and like and follow. He said that people should not keep doing the same thing over and over because it’s ‘boring’. Mugler is the kind of guy who innovates and renews constantly. He even got to renew his name, his face and his body!


Mugler by Helmut Newton, 1996

At the end of the preview a journalist asked Mugler which young generation fashion designers he liked and he responded: “I don’t know, I don’t look at fashion”. I thought it was funny at first but then I realised that it actually says so much about Mugler as a designer. He doesn’t look at trends or hypes – he doesn’t care – he just does exactly what he feels like when he feels like it, which is exactly the reason this tribute to Manfred Thierry Mugler is wonderful, fascinating and unique.

Thierry Mugler Couturissime
Alan Strutt, Yasmin Le Bon, Palladium, London, 1997 ; Evening Standard Magazine, October 1997. Photo: © Alan Strutt

Be sure to visit Rotterdam for an immersion in Mugler’s universe, you will not regret it!

22 thoughts on “Expo: Retrospective on iconic fashion designer Thierry Mugler

  1. What a very interesting read. The, ”‘the Instagram era’ tends to forget to be different. They copy and like and follow. He said that people should not keep doing the same thing over and over because it’s ‘boring’.” Is such a true statement. It’s a copy, like, follow and repeat. Good on Thierry Mugler for stepping out and truly being unique.

  2. The designs of Thierry Mugler are impressive. I mean it is not something you’d usually wear but it is a form of art that is really spectacular to see.

  3. So, he is one of the designers that I never really checked out after seeing his dress for Kim Kardashian for Met Gala 2019. However, some of his creations are way too good! Thanks for enlightening! 😀

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