French fashion designer Manfred Thierry Mugler has died, according to a statement posted on his Instagram account on Sunday evening. “May his soul Rest In Peace,” the statement read. Mugler was 73.
No cause of death was immediately announced.
Over his decades-long career, Mugler dressed a galaxy of stars—from legendary luminaries like David Bowie, George Michael, and Cindy Crawford to more modern giants like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Rihanna.
The designer was also an icon in his own right. Born in 1948 as Thierry Mugler, he started out as a ballet dancer in Paris and never lost the sense of ephemerality that performing gave him.
“You can be vomiting, you can detest who you are, detest the world, detest every single thing, and the next moment you are in the light and you glow,” he told Elle in 2017. “You forget everything, and you are just flying. When you’re onstage, you are someone else.”
Mugler launched his label in 1974 and had ascended to the height of glamour by 1992. “My clothes are sexy and avant-garde and as I wrote and said in Robert Altman’s Prêt a Porter, ‘It’s all about getting a great fuck, darling,’” he told Vice in 2010.
Gifted with an innate theatrical flourish, Mugler’s style was equal parts audacious and sexy. Archival pieces from his wild ’80s and ’90s runway shows achieved a timeless quality. One vintage 1995 dress was resurrected by Cardi B for an appearance at the 2019 Grammy Awards.
“From the moment I saw it, I knew it was going to be a debatable moment, some people would love it and some people would hate it and that’s everything we’re about when it comes to fashion,” the rapper’s stylist told WWD after the awards ceremony. “It’s meant to create a conversation.”
With his unique blend of the flamboyant and the fetishistic, Mugler was known for incendiary shapes that transformed his models into machines, affixing them with robotic limbs or bustiers with motorcycle handles protruding from them. He dreamed up more than one iconic look, including Demi Moore’s little black dress in Indecent Proposal and the entirety of a Cirque du Soleil show, “Zumanity,” a bombastic, animalistic cabaret.
He was inspired by the likes of Grace Jones as he was starting out and later served as an inspiration, shaping Alexander McQueen’s bad-boy looks and much of Gaga’s Born This Way era.
But as a trailblazer—one of the first to inject spectacle and sex into his shows—Mugler was also notoriously difficult to work with. George Michael, whose “Too Funky” music video Mugler costumed in 1992, chafed against the designer’s brash persona and singular vision. One performer told Vogue that the atmosphere on set quickly devolved into one of “hysteria, lots of smoking and raw nerves.”
In 2003, Mugler’s label was shuttered by parent company Clarins in the wake of huge losses, but the designer took it in stride. He said that, for him, suddenly fashion “wasn’t the right tool anymore” and that he would seek other ways to create, including through perfumery.
Mugler had already created, in 1992, the blockbuster, salty-sweet, bergamot-infused Angel. When the debut eau hit counters, it gave birth to the “gourmand” genre of scents, and it remains one of the best-selling perfumes of all time. He would go on to create the jasmine-scented Alien in 2005 and the powerful, rhubarb-esque Aura in 2017.
Before his public reappearance in 2007, Mugler also reinvented himself as a bodybuilder—and changed his first name to Manfred. The “mountainous” man, as The New York Times called him in 2010, was newly metamorphosed but remained just as “swaggering and naughty” as ever.
The transformation, he told the Times, was a deliberate attempt to shed his former self. “You don’t want to be reminded that you did this or you did that,” he said. “It is disturbing.”
Mugler emerged briefly from his semi-retirement in 2019, however, to dress his good friend Kim Kardashian for the Met Gala. The resulting “wet couture dress” was inspired by Sophia Loren in the 1957 film Boy on a Dolphin.
“He envisioned me as this California girl stepping out of the ocean, wet, dripping,” Kardashian said at the time.
“You can’t take fashion too seriously,” Mugler said in a 2017 interview. “The whole thing is about giving the woman who wears your clothes some power, some fun, some service. It’s great to make it as art. But first, it’s a service for someone.”