Fashion icon Thierry Mugler retrospective at MMFA

Iconic French fashion designer and creator Thierry Mugler is taking the fashion world by storm once again, with the world premiere of the blockbuster Thierry Mugler: Couturissime exhibition at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts.

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More than 140 costumes

Mugler’s work as visionary couturier, director, photographer and perfumer takes centre stage in this hotly-anticipated career retrospective, which runs at the MMFA from March 2 to September 8.

Couturissime features more than 140 ensembles, most of them on display for the first time, created between 1973 and 2001, as well as many never-before seen accessories and stage costumes, clips and videos, archival documents and sketches.

The exhibition also features some 100 works by such famed fashion photographers as Richard Avedon, David LaChapelle, Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton. In fact, Couturissime marks the Helmut Newton Foundation’s first participation in a foreign museum exhibition.

Says Mugler, “I have always been fascinated by the most beautiful animal on Earth: the human being. I have used all of the tools at my disposal to sublimate this creature: fashion, shows, perfumes, photography, video… I am not a person who dwells in the past, but the MMFA was the first to propose to me to stage my creations and imagine together a free, global and reinvented artistic vision. How could I refuse?”

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The world of Mugler

Thierry Mugler – or “Manfred” as he now calls himself – began as a professional ballet dancer at the age of 14 in 1962 and fell in love with the world of the stage, which would influence his later work as a designer. His first collection was in 1973. By the eighties, he had conquered the fashion world, and in 2002 he left his own couture house to devote himself to directing and producing special projects.

He has since notably created the costumes for the staging of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the Comédie-Française and the Festival d’Avignon, and the Zumanity show by the Cirque du Soleil.

Along the way he has dressed everybody from Diana Ross and David Bowie to Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli, as well as Québec icons Diane Dufresne and Céline Dion. Mugler also designed the stage costumes for American pop singer Beyoncé’s I Am… world tour.

This impressive body of work is explored in the comprehensive and compelling Couturissime exhibition curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot under the direction of Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator of the MMFA. Both Loriot and Bondil bring a sure touch to the Mugler retrospective: they also created the MMFA’s blockbuster Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk exhibition, which toured museums around the world for five years.

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Haute couture and ready-to-wear

The MMFA created the exhibition’s immersive galleries in collaboration with Québec designer Michel Lemieux, German director Philipp Fürhofer and special effects creator Rodeo FX.

The seven galleries focus on different aspects of Mugler’s fabled career: Macbeth, featuring costumes from the famed 1985 French production; Too Funky, about George Michael’s 1992 song and video, which marked Mugler’s drama-filled directorial debut (Mugler and Michael came to loggerheads); Star and Strass, focusing on the celebrities Mugler has dressed; Belle de Jour vs Belle de Nuit, about the “architectural, hyper-feminized style” of Mugler; Helmut Newton and Mugler, about the designer’s collaborations with the German photographer; Metamorphosis, which looks at Mugler’s fantastical designs inspired by nature; and Gynoid Couture, which explores Mugler’s chrome and Plexiglas robotic creatures.

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21st century visionary

The Thierry Mugler: Couturissime exhibition is a refreshing reminder of the importance of style and visionaries like Mugler.

As exhibition curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot points out, Mugler “knows how to distinguish himself through constant innovation and audacious silhouettes that have marked an era, and found a place in the history of fashion. His singular style, a kind of futurist version of New Look with a touch of fantasy and fetishism, is still a powerful influence on today’s generation of couturiers.”

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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