By the time I was lining up at Paris Fashion Week with a standing-room ticket in hand in the mid-1980’s, Thierry Mugler was almost out of fashion—at least as far as the avant-garde readership of my small, independent magazine then was concerned. What I really mean is that Mugler was by then already too much in: he represented the fashion establishment, with the French minister of culture wearing his futuristic, guru-collared jackets; the big-shouldered look he’d pioneered dominating the social pages of magazines; and Mugler himself—the super-handsome hero behind the brand—making killer entrances every night at Le Palace, his entourage of models and celebrities in tow.
In my youthful opinion at the time, Thierry Mugler—the icon of French fashion who had stolen the limelight from Yves Saint Laurent—had already been overtaken by a new generation of international talent. The British punk Vivienne Westwood, the Japanese iconoclasts Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, the minimalists Jil Sander and Romeo Gigli, and the very French street-style phenom Jean Paul Gaultier—those were the shows I was dying to see!
Now, almost 40 years later, I can see that, in a certain sense, I missed the point. As history has confirmed, and with his first museum retrospective opening in Montreal on March 2, Mugler was never really in or out of fashion. Through the multiple twists and turns of his long career he always inhabited his own space, a territory between fashion and theater, between elitism and mass appeal, between tradition and transgression. He combined the structure and order of the golden 1980’s with the wild freedoms of the 1970’s, endorsing a mix of high and low culture in which haute couture refinement met drag-show drama. This merging of fashion and pop culture, this idea of clothing as spectacle, not only earn his work a place in the canon but also make it absolutely relevant to every new generation of designers. John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and Hedi Slimane all owe him something, and we cannot imagine the contemporary convergence of fashion and entertainment without his example.
Excerpted from the book Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, edited by Thierry-Maxime Loriot, 2019, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Publishing Department and Phaidon.