Haute couture in the shadow of Thierry Mugler’s death | Fashion


The opening of Paris haute couture fashion week, trailed as a celebratory return to live catwalk shows, was overshadowed by the death of the fashion legend Manfred Thierry Mugler.

The unexpected announcement of Mugler’s death at the age of 73 made a dramatic start to fashion’s most theatrical week. Haute couture produces showstopping, headline-grabbing gowns for the upcoming red carpet season and for the world’s most extravagant parties. The pedestrian business of hemlines, which other fashion weeks concern themselves with, has no place here. Couture week had been hailed as a cheerful post-pandemic celebration of live fashion, with twice as many physical catwalk shows scheduled as last season, but the news of Mugler’s death, which came just days after a Louis Vuitton show paid tribute to the late Virgil Abloh, moved the mood music dial to bittersweet.

Daniel Roseberry, the American creative director who over the past two years has plucked the Schiaparelli name out of fashion’s history books and put it back onto Vogue covers, paid homage to Mugler at his show. A recent visit to Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, a retrospective of the designer currently being staged in Paris, “made me realise how much I had absorbed directly from his work”, Roseberry said. “[Mugler’s] legacy in fashion today is so vibrant, in the way he created characters on the runway. This is very sad news. To be able to show today, in a space that is almost like a church, is an incredible honour.”

The winter sunshine that flooded the Beaux-Arts splendour of the Petit Palais gallery added sublime dazzle to a show of foxy blacked-out curves accented by pieces of polished gold which are ornaments, rather than mere accessories. There was an hourglass gold metal corset, a handbag fashioned as a miniature sofa complete with ornamental legs, and earrings in the shape of dinosaur-sized molar teeth. Delicate gold sculptures bobbed in space around the models as they walked the catwalk, echoing the mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder. Previous incumbents to the Schiaparelli design job have struggled with a brand weighed down by its history, but Roseberry has brought it back to life not by trying to move away from surrealism but by leaning hard into it – specifically into an obsession with exaggerated body parts which connects 1930s avant garde art to Instagram’s obsession with filtered bodily perfection. There are no lobsters on Roseberry’s catwalk, but plenty of teeth, breasts, ears and toes. “Anytime that people see themselves reflected back in fashion – especially seeing the body reflected back – there is a visceral reaction to that,” the designer said after his show.

In its idiosyncratic hot takes on the human body, the Schiaparelli collection emphasised how Mugler presaged contemporary fashion and pop culture. Mugler once said “I have always been fascinated by the most beautiful animal on the Earth: the human being”, and a preoccupation with the body shaped not just his catwalk shows, but all three of his careers. Mugler was a professional ballet dancer before he became a fashion designer, at which point he rejected the wispy lines of the ballerina in favour of exaggerated corsetry. Later, on parting company with his fashion house, he became a full-time bodybuilder.

The extent to which Mugler’s point of view remains alive in fashion was also underscored by the front row presence of Kanye West at Schiaparelli, wearing a full black face covering which, while technically rendering him anonymous, has become an attention-grabbing signature look. With matching leather trousers, boots and jacket, West’s all-black silhouette evoked ex-wife Kim Kardashian’s Balenciaga look at the most recent Met Gala. Mugler was an industry maverick who broke rules in every category, putting a just-divorced Ivana Trump on his catwalk in 1991 and scoring his biggest commercial success not with a dress but with the best-selling fragrance, Angel, which has notes of melted milk chocolate. He continued to create one-off pieces long after bowing out of fashion in its business mode, and in 2019 dressed Kardashian in a latex gown intended to look as if she had just emerged from a dip in the ocean in a wet T-shirt.

Roseberry pointed to clean, sculptural silhouettes as a direction for the upcoming red carpet season. Describing last year as “a kind of disco goddess sensibility” he said he was “tired of ballgowns, tired of pouffiness. I want to see some legs.”

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