Photo’s by Danny Perez, Courtesy Brooklyn Museum
The past isn’t just the present, but it is also very much the future at the Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibition ‘Thierry Mugler: Couturissime’.
That message rang loud and clear, during a walk-through Monday morning with the museum’s senior curator of fashion and material culture Matthew Yokobosky, Mugler creative director Casey Cadwallader, and the head of the Mugler archives, Marion Bourdée. Enthralling and forward-thinking as the show is, it also will sound a knell, as Manfred Thierry Mugler died unexpectedly in January at the age of 73. The Brooklyn exhibition will be the final stop in a five-city tour.
First shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, then in Germany, the Netherlands and France, the traveling ‘Thierry Mugler: Couturissime’ exhibition has officially landed at its final destination: New York City’s Brooklyn Museum. There, exhibition curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot and the museum’s senior curator of fashion Matthew Yokobosky have adapted the limitless, historical showcase for New York’s fashion crowd, now on view from November 18, 2022, to May 7, 2023.
Spanning Haute Couture designs and unpublished archives, the exhibition houses more than 100 looks (most of which are on view for the first time) along with accessories, videos, photographs, sketches and fragrances that define Thierry Mugler’s unequivocal stamp on fashion. It’s the first retrospective to explore the French designer’s imaginative, no-holds-barred universe — a daring world that he first began curating in the 1970s.
Originally a dancer for the Ballet de l’Ópera national du Rhin, Mugler had an intimate understanding of the human form, one that proved pivotal in the creation of his legacy-defining silhouettes. In the ’70s, the designer coined his clientele ‘glamazon’ (a conflation of ‘glamour’ and ‘Amazon’), a fashionable, modern woman whose style had elevated since the hippie codes of the ’60s. Throughout his career,
Mugler’s penchant for risk-taking, be it through boundary-pushing silhouettes or unlikely fabrics (think glass, PVC, vinyl, latex and chrome), set a new tone in fashion via stylized provocation, fembot couture and rewritten codes. In the ’80s and ’90s, he spearheaded the renaissance of haute couture with thought-provoking collections and theatrical presentations, which, to this day, continue to impact fashion’s landscape.
The exhibition champions Mugler’s industry-altering portfolio by theme, separating the designer’s interests into rooms dedicated to fantasy, glamour, science fiction, eroticism and the natural world. In the Brooklyn Museum’s Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, the showcase begins with a life-size hologram of Mugler’s designs for a theatrical production of ‘La Tragédie de Macbeth’, presented by the Comédie-Française at the 1985 Festival d’Avignon. To the left, there’s a wall filled with sketches for the play; and on the right, enlarged text chronicles Mugler’s journey over five decades.
In the following corridors, the visionary’s designs claim the spotlight, lined against the wall in sartorial coordination. Upon entrance, Mugler’s FW95 Venus dress, which Cardi B wore to the 61st Grammy Awards in 2019, attracts the eye at first glance. Next to it, Mugler’s Haute Couture FW97 embroidered velvet pagoda jacket and baroque basques Muslin-crested skirt become acquainted with a FW95 fitted, velvet evening coat with crystal and feather embellishments.
A fashion visionary, Mugler established himself as one of the most daring and innovative designers of the late twentieth century. His bold silhouettes and unorthodox techniques and materials—including glass, Plexiglas, vinyl, latex, and chrome—made their mark on fashion history.
In galleries designed by Berlin artist Philipp Fürhofer, Mugler’s futuristic silhouettes, inspired by science fiction and comic-book superheroines, medieval armor and uniforms, appear in battle-ready legions. He collaborated with Jean-Pierre Delcros and Jean-Jacques Urcun to create robotic humans, which wear FW95 metal and Plexiglas full-body catsuits and FW89 bustiers with ‘radiator grille’ and ‘headlight’ adornments at the showcase. A standout, the designer’s prized creation, ‘Maschinenmensch’, which debuted in 1995 during his 20th-anniversary show, reflects a full armor suit that took six months to produce.
In the foreground of natural scenes, the ‘Metamorphosis’ gallery highlights adventurous silhouettes from Mugler’s ‘Les Insectes’ and ‘La Chimère’ collections from 1997-98. Front and center, the exhibition spotlights a black velvet sheath and train adorned with feathered butterfly wings and a dress donning iridescent scales with crystal embroidery. In the left corner, the designer’s Haute Couture FW99 ‘Méduse de bal’ gown stands confidently, with coated and pleated organza bodice and double crinoline; and on the opposite side, there’s an Haute Couture SS97 catsuit and velvet satin cape, worn by Kylie Jenner during the exhibition’s opening.
In the 1970s, Mugler defined trends with his acclaimed ‘glamazon’, a chic, modern woman whose style evolved from the hippie fashions of the 1960s. In the 1980s and ’90s, Mugler galvanized the renaissance of haute couture through his provocative collections and theatrical fashion shows, which involved grandiose locations and the era’s most iconic models.
Elsewhere, there’s a gallery dedicated to Mugler’s iconic fragrances, with a new section honoring the 30th anniversary of the Maison’s Angel scent. (Notably, the fragrance’s inclusion of ethyl maltol, a sweetening food compound, single-handedly launched a new perfume category: gourmand.) ‘Couturissime’ also traverses Mugler’s iconic fashion photography, showcasing works by artists and collaborators including Lillian Bassman, Guy Bourdin, David LaChapelle, Karl Lagerfeld, Sarah Moon, Pierreet Gilles, Herb Ritts and Ellen von Unwerth. Naturally, the exhibition dedicates a sizable portion to Mugler’s lifelong collaborations with photographer Helmut Newton, specifically with 23 works on view.
“The constant innovations, inventions, and avant-garde architectural silhouettes in the work of Mugler have marked an era”, said Loriot. “His singular style found a place in the history of fashion that still has a powerful influence on today’s generation of couturiers, not only because of its designs but also because of the strong message of inclusivity, diversity, and empowerment in his body of work”.
Casey Cadwallader, creative director of Mugler, added, “I’m so excited to bring ‘Couturissime’ to Brooklyn. The exhibition is a vibrant journey through Manfred Thierry Mugler’s vision and legacy. A true creative running in his own lane, everything he touched, from silhouettes and craft to casting and fragrance, was different. He was always true to himself because it was the only way he knew how to be”.
The exhibition features over one hundred outfits ranging from haute couture pieces to stage costumes, alongside custom accessories, sketches, videos, images by leading fashion photographers, and spectacular installations that mirror Mugler’s futuristic approach. The Brooklyn Museum’s presentation also introduces an expanded section dedicated to fragrance, centered on Mugler’s trailblazing scent Angel. ‘Thierry Mugler: Couturissime’ is an opportunity to discover and rediscover the fantastical work of this multidisciplinary artist, who revolutionized the world of fashion.
Thierry Mugler: Couturissime
November 18, 2022 – May 7, 2023
Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, 5th Floor
Come into the beautiful world of Thierry Mugler. Tickets for The Brooklyn Museum’s ‘Thierry Mugler: Couturissime exhibition’ can be reserved on the museum’s website.