Talking Thierry Mugler with the Designer’s Greatest Fan: Drag Race’s Detox

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Emma Sjöberg during the shooting of the video for George Michael’s song “Too Funky,” Paris, 1992, directed by Thierry Mugler. Outfit: Thierry Mugler, Les Cow-boys collection, prêt-à-porter spring/summer 1992© Patrice Stable

As a new exhibition chronicling the work of Manfred Thierry Mugler prepares to open, we speak with Detox about the designer’s impact on her life

French fashion designer Manfred Thierry Mugler retired from the runway in the early 2000s, just under 30 years since he presented his debut collection in 1973. During that timespan, the unique vision that Mr Mugler put forth was one of brazen, futuristic fantasy enmeshed with the exquisite legacy of haute couture. His work can be defined by spectacular catwalk shows – particularly those staged in the 1980s and 1990s – and collections that pushed the worldly limits of the human body. In Mugler’s universe, eroticism, science fiction, and preternatural Hollywood glamour reigned supreme. 

Now, the first ever (and long overdue) retrospective of his work is set to open on March 2 this year at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, bringing together over 140 archival ensembles, as well as many never-before-seen accessories, stage costumes, moving footage and documents. “Mugler’s vision was a tribute to women; strong women. He created what I refer to as ‘The New New Look’,” explains the exhibition’s curator, Thierry-Maxime Loriot, comparing Mugler’s legacy to that of Christian Dior. “It’s a fantasy work – it’s not commercial like fashion today. Fashion used to be an art form, but not anymore. And this is why we chose to display it in a fine art museum.” 

Ahead of the show’s opening, we speak with drag artist Detox – RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnus and one of the most fashion-focused queens of her generation – who is one of Mugler’s greatest fans about how she looked to the designer when creating her own art. 

On first encountering Thierry Mugler’s work...
“The first memory I have of seeing Thierry Mugler’s work is the 1995 VH1/Vogue fashion awards. I was ten years old. It was the whole 20-year retrospective of his collections. I remember watching it as a kid and my mom being in the background shouting ‘what is that?! Turn that off!’ and I was just floored by it and immediately obsessed. I was like, ‘I want to live in this world. I want to grow up to be this kind of woman.’ And then it so happens, I did!”

On the impact he had on creating Detox...
“He made everyone look like a superhero or a supervillain. I’ve always been drawn to strong women and for me, nobody celebrated strong women as Mugler did. When I started doing drag I looked to his designs immediately. The colour palette was always there in my looks and there was 1980s and 1990s nostalgia when I came to create the character of Detox. Everything at the beginning was very severe – I was much more of a club kid but all the pieces I wore were super angular. There was a lot of fetishwear, corsetry and vinyl. Anything that was slick, shiny and tight I was all about. Which is obviously very Mugler.” 

On her favourite Mugler moments...
“It’s so hard to pick. I loved the A/W79 collection; all of the gold pleated catsuits from outer space. It was stuff that no one else was doing at the time. I have a collection of pieces, too. A friend of mine David from Slick it Up, a New York-based company who make underwear and fetishwear, gave me an amazing leather piece from the S/S97 Insects collection. It’s all patchwork leather with huge angled shoulders and an angled neckline. I have a lot of pieces from the collections around that same era, too – I’m drawn to the super nipped-in waists and peplums. I have to have at least 40 or 50 pieces, but I really can’t pick a favourite. I treat them all like they’re my kids!”

On capturing the Mugler magic in 2019...
“There are a lot of people who are very influenced by him – people like Gareth Pugh for example. And there are other completely amazing, avant-garde talents who have the same ‘vibe’ as him, but there’s nothing quite like it. The 1990s was so different to now – it was such an iconic, beautiful moment for fashion and glamour, and we had the supermodels. We don’t have that anymore, you know? We have, like, Kendall Jenner! I mean fashion is still really exciting and spectacular. But you can’t really recreate the same magic of that time.” 

On her dreams of meeting Mr Mugler...
“I’ve never met Mr Mugler personally, but I’ve been in contact with his team and apparently he’s super aware of me, is a big fan and I’m really looking forward to the day for when I can meet him and profess my love. Every time I’m in Paris, I always get in contact saying ‘Helloooo! I’m here!’ but he’s always somewhere else in the world. Now they’re doing this retrospective exhibition in Canada they’ve been super busy, too. It’s going to be exquisite. All I have to left to say is: I love you Manfred and can’t wait to see you one day!”

Thierry Mugler: Couturissime opens at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on March 2, 2019 and runs until September 8, 2019.