The 1980s were a turning point in the modern fashion industry, especially for Couture. After losing its supremacy to the Ready-to-Wear ethos of the 60s and 70s, a new wave of fashion designers began bringing luxe craftsmanship and custom-made clothing back to the center of attention.
Thierry Mugler would now become the instigator of this new type of fashion: a total deconstruction of social taboos and a long-overdue establishment of fashion as an art medium to be taken seriously and collected appropriately.
This was an era ruled by wealth, with a call-to-arms for a movement of emancipated women able to work in the same industries as men, earn (nearly) as much as men, and be taken as seriously as men. Under this historical shift, from Mugler’s fantasies emerged a bold style, of a woman not dressing masculine to emulate a man, but of a woman embracing her hyper-feminine, strong character that a typical male could never dream of achieving himself.
After diving headfirst into the experimental world of Mugler, I was left most intrigued by his futurist designs. First: the cyborg women. These avant-guard outfits refer to an empowered possession of the other worldly: that of the mysterious female form, so powerful that it must be armoured. In George Michael’s music video “too funky” supermodels in Mugler morph into robots and motorcycles, putting emphasis on the era’s extravagance and (quite literal) drive for consumption.
Curves are reinterpreted, tucked and nipped. The body is elongated. Body 2.0. According to Mugler, the New Woman is strong in her extreme sexuality and is unafraid of her freedom, using it to her advantage, eager to allure for her own amusement. Padded, corseted, undressed, painted: the body is sculpted and extended beyond the natural. A surreal silhouette is introduced.
Ten years later, in his ’97 couture show, the models return to nature. They morph into aliens, insects, and flowers. The spirit of metamorphosis parades down the runway as a colony of ants, wearing cinched-waist jackets and hats with protruding antennas. Ants are some of the strongest creatures of the animal world, with the ability to carry 50x their body weight. The Mugler spirit transcends from the garments into an attitude of strength and support for their own.
The Mugler attitude influenced the style and spirit of countless unapologetic artists. David Bowie notably included Mugler’s couture into his androgynous performances. Disco legend Diana Ross frequently donned his creations, and even performed live during Mugler’s infamous butterfly show.
The fine art photographer Vincenzo Forino captured the essence of the current exhibit on display at Munich’s Kunsthalle, Thierry Mugler: Couturissime. Opposed to the oversaturated instant clichés, the young photographer communicates the timeless spirit of Mugler, and unveils a mysterious, enigmatic beauty. Glitchy and grainy silhouettes are adorned with halos, feathers, and metallic harnesses.
Fashion and art must change and evolve, and it will traverse through a multitude of trends, but ultimately, certain aesthetics are engrained in the human condition. The pieces immortalised by Forino are proof of the cyclicality and timelessness of fashion, and that it forever favours the glamourous, the beautiful, and the strong. Whatever that looks like to you.
The Thierry Mugler exhibition is on display in Munich until 28 February 2021 . More information can be found here
Text by Marien Brandon
Images Courtesy of Vincenzo Forino