The name Manfred Thierry Mugler sounds like a powerful superhero or as if it’s taken right out of a sci-fi movie, but, in actuality, he’s someone whose timeless creations inspire dreams.
By Stéphane Le Duc
His female robots, corset armors, and insect dresses continue to fascinate people, judging by the thousands of visitors who stood in line to admire his Couturissime exhibit and who will soon do the same at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. One day, his life will be told in a novel or an opera, or better yet, in a ballet, an art form that fascinates him and to which he has devoted 15 years of his life. One thing is for sure, this solitary child has always wished upon a star.
He came up with his first collection in 1973, a bold and unique vision that brought fashion into a new modernity. Even though collections took most of young Mugler’s time, photography soon became an essential creation tool for him. Through his friendship with the renowned German photographer Helmut Newton, Mugler discovered his talent and his ability to create his own images. Fascinated by the architecture that he associates with the construction of the body and the garment, he offers a poetic outlook on the world. He knows how to observe monuments that are sublimated by his eyes: “This photo of the CNIT in the La Défense district doesn’t look like much, but if you look at it from a certain angle, you’re transported to a magical planet, a land of ice or white sand. It’s a way to look at things differently. Like this old oil tank in the port of Le Havre, which turned into an amazing photo. Tons of people walk right past it without even noticing it. It’s a vision, a framing, like the view on the roof of the Géode in Paris.”
For decades, he traveled all over the world, visiting the desert plains of the Sahara, the glaciers in Greenland, the skyscrapers in New York, and the huge territories of Russia. He sometimes did it to fulfill contracts with big magazines, but mostly he did it for his own projects. His trip to Russia allowed him to discover a symbol that he is now very fond of: “This photo with the star was a miracle. It was in the countryside of Volgograd; it was not planned. We were in a bus caravan, I had permission from the Soviet government because it was still the USSR… Our cultural attachés, who were actually KGB spies, were watching us all the time. Every night, I had to show where we were going to shoot the next day. We could never improvise or organize ourselves in accordance with the light. We went through a field, and I saw this huge red metal star. I said, ‘Stop everything’, and we climbed on a ladder, despite the protests of the cultural attachés.”
“IF YOU LOOK AT IT FROM a certain angle, YOU’RE TRANSPORTED TO A MAGICAL planet, A LAND OF ICE OR WHITE SAND. IT’S A WAY TO LOOK AT THINGS DIFFERENTLY.”
His sense of staging is exerted wonderfully during his runways which became a reference through their full-blown shows. The fashion show of 1984 in the immense Zenith Hall in Paris marked history by bringing together a paying audience of 6,000 people who came to celebrate the great mass of fashion. This director’s perspective is transposed into the photos, often taking great risks in order to obtain the desired effect. Let’s not forget that photoshop did not exist back then, Mugler seeking perfection without it.
“There were huge risks; that’s why I hired adventurous women, but I would always test it first by standing at the spot where the picture was going to be taken. Even on the Chrysler Building, I went in before the model did. On the iceberg, the model had just a tiny little piece of survival blanket under her buttocks, and she made it, but we rehearsed before in the boat and everything was in place. I went in before, we did the test, then took the photo. It lasted three minutes. I was giving indications with a megaphone. It was so dangerous that the captain of the boat abandoned us. He said that we couldn’t go between the icebergs because things could quickly take a turn for the worst. The muses and adventurers who took part in these photos had amazing personalities, and they were excited about the result.”
Manfred Thierry Mugler has always managed to convince the greatest models to immerse themselves in his extraordinary world: Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Iman, Jerphanion’s Dauphine, and, of course, the one and only Jerry Hall, who will be part of Mugler’s famous 20th Anniversary Fashion Show, and who will also be the image of Mugler’s first perfume, Angel.
“Jerry was wonderful! She was very generous, with a good sense of humor! Extraordinary! I saw Jerry Hall after she had finished a modelling job that started at 5 A.M. in the desert; those were scary and exhausting days. She still managed to be just as good during the evening for the fireman on duty of a nearby village. She is a very confident woman, but she’s also adorable and very simple. I met Jerry Hall through the illustrator Antonio Lopez, who was a great friend of mine. He’s the one who discovered her. Jerry walked the runway for me for free at my first fashion show. She was 18 years old, and I can tell you that when she came by my small workshop at home, she was causing accidents in the street. “The image of a Jerry Hall lying in white sand for the Angel fragrance campaign was never forgotten. The perfume imagined by the designer, launched in 1992, is considered a revolution because it was the first gourmet perfume in history.”
The exceptional success of this fragrance confirms the choice of Manfred Thierry Mugler to make no compromise in his creation: “For Angel, I knew I wanted to create a classic, using a large crystal bottle. The idea was to find a common bond for everybody between tenderness and the France that I love. So, I thought about chocolate, more specifically about gently biting the person that we love. Hence the idea of asking chemists to come up with the formulas for the chocolate extract, with cotton candy and mixed with a lot of patchouli. I was very stubborn! It was very difficult and proved to be a real challenge, and Clarins helped me every step of the way to make the star-shaped bottle. There were four great bottle designers because, apparently, it was a unique craft and they were working for all the designers in the world. One of them made me a bottle with epaulette shapes amongst others, but I wanted a star. I was told it was impossible, that no glassmaker could that. Finally, a glassmaker took on the challenge. We finally had the juice, and then we had to pick a colour. It was out of the question to make a blue perfume, as it is believed that women don’t like this colour because it stains. They tried a natural colour, but the star ended up being yellow… It ended up finally working with the colour blue, which goes to show that when the idea is good, you must have the integrity to respect it.”
PHOTO : DOMINIQUE ISSERMANN
Manfred Thierry Mugler isn’t out of creativity, and projects are piling up, including one that he’s particularly fond of, in collaboration with the Bolshoï Ballet, La Scala in Milan, the Royal Ballet of London, and who he considers to be the greatest dancer of all time, Svetlana Zakharova. When asked if he was born under a lucky star, he answered without hesitation: “Yes, absolutely! Considering everything that I’ve done and the dangers that I avoided, for example, I did not fall from the Chrysler Building… Not to mention getting to work as director brought me all over the world, including Moscow, Berlin, and Japan. Yes, I think I was born under a lucky star.”