Continuing the trend of haute-couture exhibitions like Balenciaga, Master of Couture at the McCord Museum, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) debuted Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, a landmark exhibition which features 150 of the designer’s designs. Though he began as a professional dancer, Mugler entered the world of fashion in the late 1960s, first producing ready-to-wear garments in Paris, and eventually distinguishing himself with his 1973 collection Café de Paris.
“The MMFA [… had] the right people, with the right approach, to reinvent the past with innovative staging, eclectic mélanges, and a new vision of my work,” Mugler wrote in the press release for the exhibit.
To cover the breadth of Mugler’s work the MMFA foregoes chronology, opting instead to group the designer’s pieces by motif, a choice which highlights the timeless nature of Mugler’s style. The MMFA compare their sequencing of Mugler’s work to an opera in six acts, each concentrating on the themes permeating throughout Mugler’s design: Theatre, celebrity, urban style, photography, metamorphosis, and futurism. No two outfits better exemplify Mugler’s range than La Chimère’s rainbow bird-like dress, with a rugged silhouette that uses bright, wild colours and feathered accents, and Anniversaire des 20 ans’s metallic bodysuit, which harkens back to a medieval knight revolutionized with a flare of 21st century eroticism.
Throughout his career, Mugler has worked with the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and David Bowie. In the portion of the exhibition dedicated to his celebrity pieces, mannequins wearing his designs form a conga line down a mock runway.The celebrities listed are a testament to Mugler’s continued mainstream relevance. Notably featured is Cardi B’s peacock dress, which she wore to the 2018 Grammy Awards. The garment’s leopard print and glittering silver accents command attention among the extravagant dresses and costumes that crowd the room.
In Mugler’s work, grandeur often takes precedence over modesty. His eye for elaborate experimentation is seen in his costuming for the 1985 Comédie-Francaise production of Macbeth, in which Mugler adorned his witches in charred dresses with massive bustles and thicks ruffs. Mugler also designed an outfit for George Michael’s “Too Funky” music video, in which the singer sports fiery decals and is fitted with rear-view mirrors, transforming Michael into a motorcycle. The choices, though bombastic, are indicative of a creative voice that strives for showmanship rather than convention.
In conjunction with their celebration of Mugler, the MMFA has also decided to highlight several contemporary designers with Montreal Couture. A worthy adjunct to the main exhibition, this gallery recognizes local artists who seek the same worldwide renown Mugler has attained. The gallery also features seasoned professionals like Marie Saint Pierre and Philippe Dubuc, and offers snapshots of these designers’ unique takes on fashion. Variety is paramount here and though several of the garments harken back to Mugler’s aesthetics, each designer carves their own niche. In one corner of the exhibition, Ying Gao’s dresses, which look as though they are made from electrical wiring, shift and contort autonomously when viewers pass by. In another, Atelier New Regime’s branded orange jumpsuits blend sporty chic and metropolitan consumerism.
Bringing together a host of creatives both seasoned and new in Thierry Mugler’s: Couturissime, the MMFA popularizes high fashion, a craft that often seems inaccessible, reserved for the fashion elite of New York City or Paris. Fashion, though rarely exhibited in museum galleries, is at home here because, unlike on runways, the garments are stationary and available for close examination, engaging audiences more personally with the work than ever before. Much like a painting or a sculpture, the MMFA celebrates couture as the work of art that it is.