Thierry Mugler: Creatures of Haute Couture

Front row fashion at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Thierry Mugler

It’s a peculiar feeling, seeing a familiar old trend recycled a generation later. Alas, the eighties and nineties, with their platforms and chokers, are back in vogue, and we may as well celebrate their return—at least, that’s what the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is doing.

The MMFA will host the first-ever exhibit dedicated to Manfred Thierry Mugler, one of the most influential designers of the eighties and nineties, in February 2019. Titled Thierry Mugler: Creatures of Haute Couture, the exhibit will display over 130 designs created between 1973 and 2001 alongside unseen archive photography and documents. Many of the couture pieces took hundreds of hours to create and have rarely been seen publicly, if ever. Mugler stopped designing collections in 2003, though he has periodically dressed the likes of Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, and Beyoncé.

To say Mugler was forward-thinking would be an understatement. His couture collections were symbolic symphonies of the exotic and erotic, (hyper)futuristic and (hyper)feminine, science fiction, and sublime—a story of silhouettes, told through impossibly cinched waists, avant garde styling, and unconventional materials. Mugler’s shows were dreamlike dystopias, populated by animal-robot-human hybrids, long before genetic modification and artificial intelligence were on the cusp of everyday reality.

Many of the couture pieces in the exhibition took hundreds of hours to create and have rarely been seen publicly, if ever.

Over the last year of development and research, Thierry Mugler: Creatures of Haute Couture has been curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot, under the guidance of the MMFA’s legendary director general, Nathalie Bondil. He previously curated exhibits on subjects including Victor & Rolf, Peter Lindberg, and Jean Paul Gaultier—his Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk toured 12 cities and was seen by over 2 million people between 2011 and 2016.

“The [Mulger] exhibit goes beyond fashion,” says Loriot. “With Mugler, it involves all the techniques he developed—how he resuscitated haute couture. When he started in haute couture in 1992, nobody young was doing it. He brought something new and fresh to [an institution] considered old and dusty.”

Loriot and Bondil themselves are bringing a new, fresh approach to their domain, as museums increasingly open their doors to fashion—and massive acclaim. Case in point: the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, now a household name thanks to the Met Gala,and the Museum of Modern Art’s Items: Is Fashion Modern, its first such exhibit in 70 years.

Perhaps catwalks have become pedestrian, with vantage points formerly available only to editors and buyers now streamed instantaneously around the globe. While fashion’s URL democratization has been opined at length, the IRL experience of a curated exhibit such as Thierry Mugler: Creatures of Haute Couture cannot be overstated in their ability to attract young audiences.

Elevation and exclusivity is what Loriot believes will bring in crowds, particularly from Generation Instagram. “It’s easier to see a Picasso painting than a haute couture dress by Mugler or Gaultier. Nobody is invited to haute couture fashion shows,” he says. “It’s about giving access to the inaccessible.”

The exhibition Thierry Mugler: Creatures of Haute Couture will open at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in February 2019.

Photo © Patrice Stable.


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