Breaking News

Looking back at Thierry Mugler’s breathtaking fashion photography

While his work on the runway is well documented, the designer’s lesser-known photography is just as much a testament to his irrepressible creativity

When Manfred Thierry Mugler passed away on Sunday, he not only left behind a vast legacy of iconic designs, but a huge oeuvre of photography documenting his kaleidoscopic world. Each time the designer created a collection, he simultaneously built an immersive universe that brought his fantasy to life. Considering himself a director first and foremost, he developed imaginative storyboards, oversaw collections from sketch to production, scouted models and locations, staged elaborate fashion shows, and often photographed his campaigns himself. Mugler was a creative with complete control. 

Mugler took his first fashion photo at the age of 14, during a show he staged while he was a professional ballet dancer at the The Opéra national du Rhin in Alsace, France. He began designing his own clothes when he moved to Paris aged 20, and debuted his brand six years later in 1974. Fashion photographer Helmut Newton shot the two earliest Mugler campaigns, before encouraging the rising designer to start photographing his brand himself.

“As soon as Maison Thierry Mugler had a budget for a print campaign, I obviously reached out to Helmut because it was a perfect fit. I adored his work, it was totally in sync with my universe. He agreed right away, but very quickly, he told me: ‘Listen, you’re being a real pain. You know exactly what you want. Here, why don’t you take the camera and shoot it yourself?’” Mugler recounted in an interview with WWD in September 2021 . This push from Newton kickstarted a decade-spanning photography career that translated Mugler’s boundary-pushing vision into print.

Mugler used the camera to memorialise his cast of futuristic, fembot, gravity-defying characters and the scenes he placed them in. He travelled across the globe scouting locations, and captured his muses against iconic buildings and breathtaking natural landscapes. The resulting body of photography celebrates the transformative nature of fashion: his models became otherworldly deities lounging on ice caps and posing on the edges of rooftops. 

His first photo book Thierry Mugler: Fashion Fetish Fantasy was published in 1988 during his most prolific era as a photographer. The book combined photographs of Mugler’s designs by fashion photographers like Newton and David LaChapelle, alongside swathes of his own images and sketches. The pages document his legendary supermodel-filled runways, his costume designs for a theatre production of Macbeth and Linda Evangelista in George Michael’s “Too Funky” music video, and his collaborations with stars like David Bowie and Diana Ross.

Manfred Thierry Mugler, Photographer, published by Abrams in April 2020, is the source of most of Mugler’s most complete and detailed archive of photos. The eponymous book is a fantastic collection of his most memorable images as well as unseen photos from his private collection and firsthand accounts of his travels. The extensive collection of images cements Mugler not only as one of the most iconic designers of all time, but also as a talented photographer with a strong eye for lighting and composition.

“I dream in images and I want to realise that image using the best ingredients,” Mugler told Vogue in an interview in 2020. “The best ingredients are, of course, in nature – they’re not a green screen or Photoshop. So then you have to go on a quest for quality: to find the best, most beautiful vision you can, whether that be icebergs in Greenland, incredible rocks in Utah, mosques made from mud in Mali or sand dunes in the Sahara. It’s about the appeal of adventure,” he added.

Along with travelling to the world’s most breathtaking natural wonders, Mugler placed models against backdrops of historical buildings and statues like the futuristic Monument to Cosmos Scientists in Moscow, the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali, the Chrysler Building in New York, the Opéra Garnier in Paris, and the colourful Tlalpan Chapel in Mexico City. But he wasn’t only into man-made landmarks.

Even though Mugler’s world was all his own, he thrived off collaboration. From the photographers he worked with to the models and celebrities he dressed, he inspired everyone to match his powerful, provocative energy. He even occasionally photographed his muses in the designs of his contemporaries. In one particularly famous photo, in which a model stands atop a giant red star, the clothes featured are by Alaïa, not Mugler. Designer Azzedine Alaïa was a close friend of his, and helped Mugler conceive a series of collections in the late 70s, before branching out and setting up his own namesake label in the early 80s thanks to a little encouragement from his friend.

Mugler would often have a specific idea of what he wanted and was notorious for asking his models to scale buildings – and he was often right on the edge with them – or wait patiently for hours and sometimes days to get the perfect lighting. The respect he had for his models was mutual and they willingly obliged to his requests, resulting in some of the most moving fashion photography to date. Below, we remember Thierry Mugler through his most captivating photography.