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Remembering trailblazing fashion designer Thierry Mugler, dead at 73


In the music video for George Michael's 1992 hit "Too Funky," models draped in the finest, funkiest fits strut, stalk and preen down the runway. Their silhouettes are big and bold, adorned with ornate armor. And the whole spectacle is basically a showcase for French fashion designer Thierry Mugler. He reshaped the fashion world at large, centering wildly inventive concepts and creating space for queer voices. And on Sunday, he died at the age of 73.

Dana Thomas is a fashion and culture journalist, and she joins us to talk about his legacy. Hi, Dana.

DANA THOMAS: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Even as a designer, he wore so many hats. He was a photographer. He designed stage costumes for Beyonce and Cirque du Soleil and, of course, produced entire fashion shows for many years. How would you describe the creative glue that held it all together?

THOMAS: Well, I think he was really, you know, omnicultural in that sense that, for him, everything was about beauty, power and empowerment of women, making them provocative and strong without sacrificing their beauty. He loved the hourglass figure - big bosoms, tiny waist, big derriere, sort of the Jessica Rabbit shapeliness.

SHAPIRO: It's no surprise that he designed for Kim Kardashian and Cardi B.

THOMAS: When he finally met up with Kim Kardashian, it was a match made in heaven. And the clothes that he made for her, most notably this sort of nude-colored latex gown for the Met Gala that was dripping in crystals that looked like raindrops - so it looked like she was wearing a nude-colored dress and she'd been caught in the rain - was just magical and magnificent in its femininity and yet its strength. All that Mugler was and all that Kim Kardashian tries to be really came together.

SHAPIRO: He was also unapologetically queer.

THOMAS: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: And that was unusual at the time. And also, in the '80s and '90s, to the extent that there were public images of gay people, often it was connected to AIDS and death and sickness. What did he do for LGBTQ people in fashion and beyond?

THOMAS: He was out and he was proud in a time when that was still not really done, even in fashion. And Thierry Mugler spent a lot of time in South Beach and really living up in the gay community of South Beach and out on the beach in...

SHAPIRO: In Miami, yeah.

THOMAS: ...Miami Beach and really out in the crowd and having a great time and going to clubs. He was also into weightlifting and became quite a bodybuilder. And the pictures that came out in later years where he was doing bodybuilding - he was just fantastic. What a bold and brave person.

SHAPIRO: We've talked about a few of his signature looks, his iconic designs, moments that will live on in history. If somebody listening to this is unfamiliar with his work and they were going to do a Google image search right now, what would you tell them to look for?

THOMAS: The most beautiful collection was the insects collection. It was just extraordinary how - I don't even know how to say it. He made these women look like they were creatures in a magical forest.

SHAPIRO: I've just pulled this up, and he has women covered in scales, like...

THOMAS: Scales and antennae.

SHAPIRO: ...A bodice that's a carapace, antenna, wings. It's transformative.

THOMAS: It's just magical.

SHAPIRO: You can actually see the echoes of, 20 years later, Marvel superhero movies that would transform people into creatures that are clearly referencing things that he was doing in - what year was this?

THOMAS: Ninety-five. If somebody had wizened up out on the West Coast and realized the potential of Thierry Mugler designing Marvel comic costumes for them, wow, zow (ph). Nothing would have ever looked the same.

SHAPIRO: I guess they'll just have to tap his archives for inspiration.

THOMAS: A million bucks.

SHAPIRO: That's Dana Thomas, fashion and culture journalist based in Paris, remembering Manfred Thierry Mugler with us. Thank you so much.

THOMAS: Thank you.


GEORGE MICHAEL: (Singing) Hey. You're just too funky for me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Mano Sundaresan is a producer at NPR.
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