Thierry Mugler (b. 1948) was once a well-known name in the world of fashion in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s with celebrities like Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss wearing his clothing. Although he retired from fashion for a period of almost two decades, the designer recently returned to the spotlight. He loaned three vintage looks to rapper Cardi B for the 2019 Grammy Awards, designed Kim Kardashian’s dress for the 2019 Met Gala and is the featured subject of an exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (March 2 – September 8, 2019) (notes 1-3).
Inspired by his background in theatre and dance, Mugler is known for his futuristic and whimsical designs born out of his wildest fantasies. The daring designer distinguishes himself with clothing of sharp shoulders and distinct waistlines which redefined the female silhouette of the latter half of the 1980s (note 4). However, Mugler’s designs are not just items of clothing, but tools of communication. He said: “I invent my characters and I put them on stage. For me, clothes are a language” (note 5).
It is with this idea of clothing as communication that inspired me to take a closer look at a 1990s Thierry Mugler skirt suit (FRC2019.03.002ABC) donated anonymously to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. While I did not live through this era of power suits and skirt suits, the vibrant colour and bold design of this Mugler suit intrigued me and I wanted to learn more about the designer and the clothing worn by women during the 1990s.
Aqua blue Thierry Mugler skirt suit, ca. 1990s. Ryerson FRC2019.03.002ABC. Gift of Anonymous donor. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2019.
The aqua blue skirt suit grabbed my attention as undoubtedly it would have attracted the eyes of passersby. In order to further investigate such an interesting ensemble, I used the object-based research method from The Dress Detective by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim (note 6). This series of three blog posts will consider the construction of the garment and analyze related contextual information of the 1990s in order to explore the idea of clothing as a symbol of power and method of communication.
Technical design of aqua blue Thierry Mugler skirtsuit, ca. 1990s. Ryerson FRC2019.03.002ABC Gift of Anonymous donor. By Victoria Hopgood, 2019.
Thierry Mugler is known for a specific silhouette when designing for women. More commonly known as the Mugler look, it is his fantasy woman brought to life with “structured silhouettes, wide shoulders, wasp waists and endless legs” (note 7). This ideal dream woman is reflected in his designs, some which push ideas of femininity to the extreme, such as a motorcycle corset from 1992 or a cyborg metal bodysuit from 1995 (note 8 and 9). In this design lexicon, this vibrant aqua blue skirt suit is somewhat subtler, but was designed to accentuate the wearer’s figure, giving particular emphasis to the waist and hips. The princess-seamed jacket is belted at the waist where it meets the softly gathered skirt.
The jacket features a plunging neckline accented by decorative top stitching and a piece of plastic in the shape of a lapel on the right-hand side. Consistent with the styles of the time, the shoulders of the jacket are given emphasis with shoulder pads (note 10). At the bottom of the front opening, four silver snaps with plastic accents line the bottom half of the jacket. With each closure placed about 2 inches (5cm) apart, they trace the curve of the jacket opening to a unique asymmetrical design that resembles something of an upside-down wave. This interesting shape curves into an asymmetrical peplum which flares at the waist to further highlight the hourglass figure. The back of the peplum dips down to 5 inches (12.5cm).
Aqua blue Thierry Mugler skirt suit, ca. 1990s. Ryerson FRC2019.03.002ABC. Gift of Anonymous donor. Collar and button detail. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2019.
The shape of the armhole is highly unusual in that it is not just a regular round armhole, but has been more intricately designed. The front of the sleeve hole curves down from the shoulder in wave-like fashion and then juts out into a 90-degree angle where the sleeve then cuts straight to the side seam. Upon further inspection, the armholes would have been very difficult to construct and would require a deep understanding of pattern drafting to visualize the design in 3D. This is one of the subtle design elements that are evidence of high-quality craftsmanship. Not only are the armholes particularly notable, the use of plastic design elements is also unique. The cuff of the sleeve (21 inches or 52 cm) has been strategically cut and sewn to create a geometric shape that is further accented by a triangular piece of plastic.
Aqua blue Thierry Mugler skirt suit, ca. 1990s. Ryerson FRC2019.03.002ABC. Gift of Anonymous donor. Sleeve detail. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2019.
Located on the left breast is a pocket in the shape of a skewed parallelogram shown below. It measures 3 inches (7.5cm) by 4 inches (10cm) and where the edge of the pocket rounds, the opposite side curves toward it making it appear slanted. A piece of plastic in the shape of a wave decorates the top of the opening in pocket square fashion.
Aqua blue Thierry Mugler skirt suit, ca. 1990s. Ryerson FRC2019.03.002ABC. Gift of Anonymous donor. Pocket detail. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2019.
The knee-length skirt is gathered at the waist creating a balloon effect that tapers slightly at the side seams to emphasize the hips. The waist of the skirt measures 26” (66 cm), however the widest part at the hips is only 33” (84cm). The outfit had to be photographed on a different mannequin than usual because the hips are so unusually small, relative to the waist. On the form, it appears that the hips are significantly bigger than the waist, hence the balloon effect, but the gathers could be responsible for this illusion. The back of the skirt features a peplum-like insert where the seam splits and flares out and a piece of plastic connects the sides of the slit. This remarkable design element causes the bottom of the skirt back to flare outwards.
Aqua blue Thierry Mugler skirt suit, ca. 1990s. Ryerson FRC2019.03.002ABC. Gift of Anonymous donor. Skirt gathers, back peplum and waistband. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2019.
The jacket features a 1 inch (2.5cm) wide belt made of the same aqua blue cotton fabric with a shark tooth-shaped plastic buckle to cinch in the waist and further emphasize the hips.
Sewn into the collar of the jacket and the waistband of the skirt is a purple and silver label which reads “Thierry Mugler Paris, Made in France, 38”.
Aqua blue Thierry Mugler skirt suit, ca. 1990s. Ryerson FRC2019.03.002ABC. Gift of Anonymous donor. Belt detail and label. Photograph by Victoria Hopgood, 2019.
Thierry Mugler’s designs are his dreams come to life. He is “trying to convey sensations and feelings… always telling stories” through his work (note 11). If clothing is a language and can silently send messages, what is this outfit trying to portray? What does the colour of it say about the wearer? Who would wear such a bold outfit? What idea was Thierry Mugler trying to embody with this design? How did it fit in with the styles of the 1990s and how did it stand out? These questions will be considered in the blog posts to follow.
Note 1: Cardi B’s 2019 Grammy outfits: https://www.vogue.com/vogueworld/article/cardi-b-grammys-archival-mugler-couture
Note 2: Kim Kardashian’s 2019 Met Gala outfit: https://www.vogue.com/article/kim-kardashian-getting-ready-thierry-mugler-met-gala-2019
Note 3: Beker, J., Bondil, N., Colmant. M., Harder, M., Lang, J., Loriot, T. M., … Verthime, S. (2019). Thierry Mugler: Couturissime. Montreal: QC: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Note 4: Bott, D. (2010) Thierry Mugler Galaxy Glamour. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson. pp. 5.
Note 5: ibid.
Note 6: Mida, I., & Kim, A. (2015). The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. Bloomsbury Academic.
Note 7: Bott, D. (2010) Thierry Mugler Galaxy Glamour. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson. pp. 5.
Note 8: Image of motorcycle corset: https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-1992-ready-to-wear/mugler/slideshow/collection#60
Note 9: Images of cyborg metal suit: https://thegenealogyofstyle.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/robot-suit/
Note 10: Zimbalist, K. (1997, September). Vogue’s view: Closet cases: A bolder shoulder. Vogue, 187(9), 256.
Note 11: see note 4.
This post was edited by Dr. Ingrid E. Mida.