Mugler is having a moment. Couturissime, a spectacular exhibition opening March 2 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is the climax of that moment.

In the weeks before the opening, Kim Kardashian, Cardi B and Miley Cyrus all wore Mugler – multiple times. There was Kardashian in a slashed black dress – which was quickly copied – as well as Kardashian in two Muglers in Montreal for the opening, causing quite the sensation on the streets outside the museum. And Cardi B wore not one, but three Mugler creations to the Grammys.

The exhibition presents 150 outfits by Manfred Thierry Mugler, as he now calls himself, along with photos, sketches and a virtual reality presentation of The Incandescence of Lady Macbeth by Michel Lemieux of 4D Art.

This culled from an archive of 7,000 pieces.

It is, simply put, awe-inspiring and overwhelming in its depth and breadth, not to mention the dazzle of incredible couture beading, feathering, metalwork and more. Curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot, with museum director Nathalie Bondil and an international team, have done a masterful job of staging the exhibition, which is realized in six acts as a “fashion opera.”

The acts: Macbeth & the Scottish Lady; Stars & Sparkles; Belle de Jour & Belle de Nuit; The Photographer’s Eye, with a gallery dedicated to Helmut Newton’s vision; Metamorphosis, with an immersive installation by Rodeo FX; and Futuristic & Fembot Couture.

The couture masterpieces are too numerous to list: each walk-through reveals another marvel. But don’t miss the multi-coloured scaled creature from the La Chimère collection, as well as the Les Insectes butterfly, modelled by Jerry Hall on the cover of an impressive catalogue of the exhibition. Also: the rubber tire dress, also from Les Insectes, the Les Cow-boys auto woman, and the robot woman from his 20th anniversary extravaganza.

Alan Strutt, Yasmin Le Bon, Palladium, London, 1997 ; Evening Standard Magazine, October 1997. Photo: © Alan Strutt. Outfit : Thierry Mugler, La Chimère collection, “La Chimère” gown, haute couture fall/winter 1997–1998. 

Just a tiny taste of the razzle dazzle of Couturissime.

If the public doesn’t know as much about Thierry Mugler as the subjects of the MMFA’s previous two fashion blockbusters, on Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier, that will likely change soon.

“It is not a funeral exhibition,’’ said Loriot, echoing a theme from the  Gaultier blockbuster, which he also curated and which went on to tour 12 cities over five years and was viewed by more than 2 million. Couturissime goes on show in Rotterdam after it wraps in Montreal Sept. 8, and is also expected to travel the world.

The Mugler name conjures up power 80s, big shoulders, structure, and a scent – Angel – that is as powerful as his designs. Clarins, owner of the brand and lucrative perfume, restored the costumes and provided access to the archive.

“He was crazy enough to imagine this power girl, which was completely new,’’ Bondil said, noting that the 70s were all about flower power and the hippie. He also imagined the fashion show in its present incarnation as a staged performance with music and theatre, sometimes dance.

Manfred Thierry Mugler with Kim Kardashian at the opening of Couturissime at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Sebastien Roy.
Manfred Thierry Mugler at the Couturissime exhibition of his work.

But in 2002, Thierry Mugler withdrew from his fashion house and changed his name to Manfred Thierry Mugler. He also metamorphosed himself, from a lithe ballet dancer to a bulky bodybuilder, a change reported on by the New York Times.

Since then, his projects have included costumes for Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity and for Beyoncé’s I am tour.

Many museums had vied for a chance to show Mugler, but none was successful, Bondil, Loriot and Mugler said at the press preview. Why Montreal, why now?

Mugler pointed to Bondil, whom he met in Berlin after Bondil viewed his staging of Mugler Follies.

“I clicked with Nathalie. And I knew the work of Thierry-Maxime,’’ Mugler said. “We did this installation – magical journey, which I hope will make you dream.”

I had some questions for Bondil and Loriot.

Question: What makes Thierry Mugler significant today?

Loriot: “Now you see fast fashion, you see a lot of things on social media, I think people forget what real creativity is about. It’s about pushing the boundaries.

“I think it’s a nice lesson for the new generation to see how you can dare to be different, push the envelope and not follow the trends and be successful.”

Q. Is there one thing about distinctive about Mugler – about his trajectory, his way of seeing fashion?

Loriot: “Many things. It is based on a fantasy world. It’s about how you stage fashion, stage your life with clothes, how you have the freedom to become whoever you choose to be.

“He is not designing in the style of Dior, the style of Chanel – it’s really his own language.

“He never followed the trends. Even in the 70s he was doing body conscious pieces, cinched waist, big shoulders – more to empower women. Because he created a world without men, basically.”

Q. So he is the greatest influence on power dressing?

Loriot. “Definitely. The silhouette he designed is basically what we wear now. Mugler did the new New Look.”

Q. We’ve seen a mass of Mugler sightings with Cardi B at the Grammys, Miley Cyrus also at the Grammys, and Kim Kardashian. Coincidence?

Loriot: “I’ve been working on the show for three years. When you see the robot suits – they’re iconic pieces.”

So many stars have worn his pieces, he said, mentioning Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Rihanna.

Q. In the weeks before the show, there was a lot of exposure. Symbiotic?

Loriot: “People knew the show was coming. We do exhibitions, we don’t do PR.”

Questions for Bondil:

Q. What is it about Mugler that resonates today?

Bondil: “I think it is the fact that he has no boundaries, in terms of his sexuality, in terms of his attitude.

“Why Mugler now? First, because he is one of the best. Everybody wanted to do this show. It is such a great privilege to have this show in Montreal.

“He remains very strong because he always creates for the stage.

“For Mugler, what is important is not to create for daily life.

“When we visit this exhibition today, we can see not only that it was innovative, but this dimension of glamorous – inspired by comics, inspired by Hollywood, inspired by theatre – is still full of dreams. Nobody can create this kind of haute couture right now.

“He came from the dance, he came from the stage, and now he’s still working for the stage.”M

Montreal Couture, featuring the designs of 10 Montreal talents, is running in concert with Couturissime. Speaking at the press conference, Bondil said Loriot could not do this exhibition “without the point of view of the créateurs here.” Added Loriot: “We have nothing to envy in Paris or New York.”

The designers are: Marie Saint Pierre, Philippe Dubuc, Denis Gagnon, Helmer Joseph, Ying Gao, Marie-Ève Lecavalier, Atelier New Regime, Nathon Kong, Mark Antoine and Matières Fecal.