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Thierry Mugler, French fashion designer who breaks genres, dies at 73

Thierry Mugler, the scandalous and revolutionary French designer who dominated European catwalks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died on Sunday. He was 73 years old.

His passing was announced on his brand’s official Instagram. “#RIP,” he said. “We are devastated to announce the passing of Mr. Manfred Thierry Mugler on Sunday January 23, 2022. May his soul rest in peace.”

Reached Sunday evening, two of his close friends confirmed his death. No cause was given.

Mr. Mugler, born in Strasbourg, France, was one of the main architects of a late ’80s aesthetic that married S&M and haute couture. Her figure was a sort of inverted triangle with giant shoulders and a nipped-in waist. He loved latex, leather and curves.

His early muses included Grace Jones and Joey Arias. He’s had a longtime creative collaboration with David Bowie, and even dressed him for his wedding to Iman. And George Michael’s “Too Funky” was actually a Mugler TV show.

In the video, Linda Evangelista was styled like a space-age Cruella De Vil, wearing a peroxide blonde wig and dripping in fur. Another model came out in a metal Harley-Davidson-inspired bustier with real motorcycle grips protruding from either side of the waist, mirrors attached to the breasts, and a headlight in the center.

But Mr Mugler’s unabashed embrace of gay iconography overshadowed his spectacular sewing and construction technique, ghettoizing him at a time when the AIDS epidemic had become a political battleground.

“The exteriority of designers coming to terms with being gay wasn’t a thing then,” said Paul Cavaco, who during Mugler’s heyday was fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar. “People knew but you didn’t really talk about it. It was not considered fancy. And here he was sending drag queens like Lypsinka down the runway.

So even at Bazaar, which at the time was arguably America’s most adventurous fashion magazine, Mr. Mugler’s clothes were largely ignored, Mr. Cavaco said.

In 1997, Mr. Mugler’s brand was purchased by Clarins, the beauty conglomerate.

Whether Mr. Mugler happily left his brand in 2002 or left the industry to avoid being pushed around, he kept working. In 2003, he was the creator of Zumanity, a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas that featured his good friend Mr. Arias, lots of lace and lots of corsets. It lasted until March 2020, when the emergence of the coronavirus caused the closure of cinemas around the world. Mr. Mugler’s Angel perfume was a huge success. A new generation of pop stars and designers have tapped into it for inspiration.

Alexander McQueen’s punk-chic sensibility owes much to Mr. Mugler’s work. Just like Lady Gaga’s first “Bad Romance” look. Beyoncé wore the vintage motorcycle bustier on the cover of her 2009 album “I Am…Sasha Fierce.”

Around this time, Mr. Mugler’s own extreme physical transformation into a comic book supervillain wearing leather clothes became tabloid fodder. Nude photos of him with pecs wide as a block away have leaked onto the internet. He started calling himself Manfred.

Then, as red carpets became glorified reality shows in which celebrities vied to outdo each other in the category of campy theatrics, Mr. Mugler made a comeback.

Cardi B showed up to the Grammys looking like a Disney princess in a flesh-colored bodice, with sequins across her chest and a floral skirt that peeked out from behind her — a human pearl, nestled in her pink shell. A few months later, Kim Kardashian walked into the Met Gala in a Mugler-designed dress that looked like every curve had been dipped in high-fructose corn syrup (or whatever). These viral looks introduced him to millions of new fans. Mugler’s current creative director, Casey Cadwallader, said on Instagram that Mr. Mugler “changed our perception of beauty, confidence, representation and empowerment.”

A full obituary is forthcoming.

Christine Chung contributed report.

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Cory E. Barnes

The author Cory E. Barnes