Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. Mugler AW23

Back in the 80s and 90s, nobody did a (fashion) show like Thierry Mugler. In 2023, Mugler, the brand, lead by Casey Cadwallader, delivers an equal level of showmanship. “We’re showing during couture week because we’re bad. At Mugler we do whatever we want,” the designer stated before the choreographed mayhem kicked off. “We’re quite an outlier in the way we do things,” he added. What went down: a runway frenzy that idolized the talents and bodies of models and friends of the house simultaneously merged with live-captured dolly footage of said models and friends, which was consumed on a vast screen erected at the top of a set of stairs. And all over the internet, obviously. Crews of men on movie dollies slid on tracks filming the wildly whooped-at cast: Arca, Ziwe, Mariacarla Boscono, Shalom Harlow, Eva Herzigova, just to name few. There was hair swishing galore. A synchronized handbag-swinging lace-bodysuited dance troupe occupied some center steps. Then one by one, each Mugler supermodel climbed aboard another dolly, on which they could pose around a pole for the return journey. This second crew had a low-down camera which zoomed up crotch-wards, deploying a technique which might be termed up-skirting – had there been any skirts in evidence. Magnified on the monolithic screen, these oooh-aaah fragments were flashed in a live-streamed mix. What about the fashion content? Categorizing it as a collection of leather and lace doesn’t quite cover it. One thing to be said: Whether manifesting as baggy-topped leather chaps suspended under a hip-grazing heavy-duty chrome-zippered bodysuit, or a bisected one-leg, one-sleeve motorcycle suit, or indeed anything Cadwallader did with stretch black lace – it all miraculously stayed in place. And that is quite a technical achievement. It’s tricky to compare Cadwallader’s Mugler with Manfred Thierry Mugler’s original haute couture extravaganzas. In 2023, as far as being inclusive to bodies and identities, Cadwallader for sure outdoes the master. But Mugler was the outlier in his time: the man who foresaw fashion shows as cinematic spectacles. It’s a great continuation of the legacy.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Love Yourself. Mugler SS22

For spring-summer 2022, Casey Cadwallader reunited with Torso Solutions for the final installment of a trilogy of Mugler fashion films. Filmed in Los Angeles, the mind-bending video features a variety of vignettes that blend trippy glitches with the Mugler fierceness. There’s Megan Thee Stallion on a billboard; Chloë Sevigny doing a dip and turning into Barbie Swaee; Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta sharing a kiss; and two Bella Hadids. He also recently co-directed a music video for Megan and dressed Sevigny for her wedding after-party, both of which came about, he says, after working on this video. Four years on, Cadwallader has settled in. “In the beginning I was very serious and worried about everything, but there’s this need to be irreverent with Mugler,” he says. He’s leaning into that irreverence, and the video captures it by balancing irony and seriousness in a URL-era continuation of the shows Mr. Mugler put on. Less runway, more performance.

The collection is a strong exploration of his signature elements. Ombre body-con dresses suspended from sculpted collars referencing a 1998 haute couture dress feel fresh and directional. The denim is sharper and more aligned with Cadwallader’s shapewear, partly due to the transparency of the house’s “illusion tulle.” The fabric is a riff on Mr. Mugler’s segmented tailoring, which he made with fishing line. It has replaced Lycra in the denim and is being applied to the bodysuits. “This is the most bare collection I’ve done,” Cadwallader said with a laugh. “After this I’m going to dial it in a little bit.” A tied tailored jacket stands out. It can be worn criss-crossed or with the lapels pulled apart, as styled on Dominique Jackson. Versatility is something he makes a point of. “Not only is there a variety of people in the world, but there’s a variety within each person,” he said. “One can feel like they want to flaunt themselves at 10 p.m. and feel conservative at 10 a.m., or feel masculine at 10 a.m. and feminine at 10 p.m. I want to make clothes that can serve that.” The bareness might make his clothes feel niche, as if they were made exclusively for the stages they’re often seen on, but it’s this what makes them special. Who doesn’t want to feel like a pop star, at least part of the time? In today’s saturated market, niche is a great place to be. Cadwallader said he’s aware of the critique that “things look the same” in his collections. “But that’s what a signature is!” he said, laughing. “Everything is evolving over time and eventually we’ll work into more things.” As to what those will be, only he knows, but he said he’s “ready for some volume.” Also, he’s already thinking about his next video. “At a show you have, say, 500 people, but these videos…10 million people see them.” Social media has become key for fashion conversations, and with this format Mugler has leveled show-going editors and at-home spectators. “There’s this entertainment value and joy-giving to people that I don’t want to give up on. I feel a commitment to that now, so to bring it back to a closed room and keep people out is not an option for me.”

Collages by Edward Kanarecki.