A decade of i-D covers: Lady Gaga, 2011
Years before the internet and fashion fully crossed over, then-Creative Director of Mugler Nicola Formichetti prophesied a future in which style, music and interconnectivity reigned supreme. Lady Gaga, of course, was the face of it.
This story originally appeared in i-D's The Exhibitionist Issue, no. 312, 2011.
Mugler was the outrageous archetype for Paris-born, international glamour and WTF-ness throughout the 80s and 90s. Today, the house is reborn under the creative direction of superstylist Nicola Formichetti and designers Romain Kremer and Sébastien Peigné. Whilst Lady Gaga, seen here in the label’s menswear, moonlights as its musical director.
Think Thierry Mugler and sculpted peplum jackets, motorcycle bustiers and scents such as the ubiquitous Angel flash through the style subconscious. Fierce, graphic, feminine, if it had a soundtrack, it’d be Too Funky by George Michael. In fact, it was. Monsieur Thierry Mugler, a former teenage ballet dancer, caused shockwaves in fashion with his relentless vision – untrained as a designer – dressing supermodels and superstars until he walked away from ready-to-wear in 2003. Now is the beginning of a new chapter in the house.
Paris, Garage Turenne, Wednesday 19th January 2011. The lights dim, a black and white video of full-body tattooed muse Rico aka Zombie Boy aka Rick Genest is projected. “Alsch bi auschke wie falugen / Bigon bi uske MUGLERRRR,” drips from the speakers, a clubby, foot-to-the-floor remix of a new Gaga track. An industrial-looking catwalk is covered in glitter that’s kicked into the air as the models stomp their way to the end and back. A cast of tattooed boys wear tailoring, latex and translucent veils. It’s the evening before Paris menswear kicks off properly but every editor that matters is sitting front row, watching the birth of new voice in fashion – a digital, 21st century circus, dressed for sexcess. Outside a crowd of 100 or so fans are blocking the pavement, wanting to be part of the moment. “We weren’t going to do a show, we were just going to do a small presentation, focus on the women’s more,” Mugler’s new Creative Director Nicola Formichetti tells i-D after the show. “But at the last minute we thought ‘why not?’ We found some kids that we love – I don’t want it to be too much of an elitist thing – and then Gaga wanted to work on the music and then we did the film with Rico. We thought we should show this to the world. We just went with it. We did images, teasers to create a bit of excitement around the collection so that people could be part of it, so that it feels like something new coming up. It’s about clothes but also an attitude and energy you can be part of. The exciting feeling that I got when I first moved to London, that I used to see people who were only in magazines, music videos. Ten years ago I was trying to get into McQueen shows – it’s that excitement that you just have to be there and be part of it. Even if you’re standing outside, not going in but watching the people who are. That was so definitive and I haven’t really felt that recently.”
Fast forward little over a week later: it’s Friday 28th January, nine days since the show and Nicola Formichetti and menswear designer Romain Kremer are sitting in the studio with spirited in-house PR Alban Adam (check his blog, Adam’s View), overlooking the neo-Baroque gold statues of the Opéra Garnier, built in 1874. The experience has been a baptism of fire for all three, culture accelerated even by today’s standards. Before we talk about anything, however, there’s one thing we need to get out of the way first: credit the label as Mugler, not Thierry Mugler -- as declared through the new logo by Swiss graphic designer (Sang Bleu’s) Maxime Buechi. The moniker and the typeface packs intent. “There’s a collective collaborative vision,” Nicola tells as we decamp to a bar across the street to knock back coffee and muse in the interzone between menswear and womenswear shows. “We wanted a name that represented this, symbolising unity. It’s hardcore, fierce, and robotic. I wish you could click on the clothes and they’d make that sound: MUGLERRRR.” The statement’s revealing: Nicola is one of the most net-savvy people you’re likely to run into, very few people at his level embrace Twitter, Blogspot, Tumblr, YouTube as directly as he does, living through the same digital medium as his followers -- a press release put out from the label encourages fans and journalists to use the official hashtag of #Mugler when tweeting. As well as swap teaser images by Mariano Vivanco and Benjamin Alexander Huseby. Formichetti, following his September 2010 appointment, wasted no time in installing Romain to pen menswear and Sébastien Peigné womenswear, a designer with ten years under his belt working under Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga. Their creative space was assembled in late winter with just a couple of months to gel and reboot the sleeping label, producing their debut menswear collection for January. The menswear muse, Rick Genest joined after Christmas. Rico, an alternative phenomenon is a fully tattooed, head inked like a skeleton; ex-circus member from North America. He embodies an outsider spirit and inherent drama that youth relate to – not that he’d know it. (The YouTube of a fan, gregissolastyear, doing a Rico tribute with make-up says it all). “I got so inspired from Rico’s own way of dressing,” Formichetti begins, “in a way we used his own clothes and dipped them in latex. Some people might think that’s not very Mugler and that’s not what it’s about, it’s about power dressing.” But Thierry Mugler was about strong characters, fierceness and the alien – the latter he even named a perfume after. Which makes Rico a perfect menswear muse for the first proper 21st century fashion house. As for the power dressing, take a shuffle through the many rails at the showroom: most of the collection is great tailoring in navy (a Mugler standard) and intense orange. There are rubber jackets too, which are becoming synonymous already, and snap fastenings on everything, rather than buttons, a signature from Mr Mugler himself. Bicolour neoprene coats and creeper shoes complete the line-up. “I had Rico’s picture on my wall for a couple of years,” Formichetti explains. “I found him on some website, a cool punk kid in a black and white portrait with amazing make-up for Halloween or something. I didn’t know that it was tattooed at all. Maxime [Buechi] was like ‘I know that guy.’ I said ‘What do you mean? He’s actually real?’ I was blown away.” Rico didn’t have a passport and had never left his birth country, Canada, until January of this year. Since meeting, Rico has visited New York and, of course, Paris. Several times. “I asked him what he wanted to do when he completed his tattoos and he said ‘keep adding the dots, the shades.’ They’re the best I’ve ever seen. When Gaga met him she said ‘You have such an amazing contoured face already, you don’t need any make-up.’ It’s true. Every angle is a vision. When I put those two together it’s a match made in heaven. They’re so different but connect on a higher level, another dimension.”
Now to the Lady, who needs no introduction. Seen on this issue’s cover, seen on these pages, seen in today’s papers, playing on the radio somewhere in the world this very second (Born This Way has premiered, the new album is set to drop this summer). Gaga has accelerated beyond pop star status to the edge of the stratosphere, exploding and falling back to earth as a phenomenon. Formichetti is the creative who helped built this icon visually since 2009, continually pushing her appearance to new levels of hedonism. From meat dresses and Diet Coke rollers to the silicon body morphing (horned shoulders, the cheek sculpture seen here) and being reborn, in rubber Mugler womenswear, from a Hussein Chalayan egg at the 2011 Grammys. And now he’s installed her as music director for Mugler. For i-D, Lady Gaga wears a men’s rubber jacket, shot just days after the show and before the womenswear samples were finished.
Regarding the womenswear, you’re reading these words as the dust is settling after the March 2nd, off-schedule, womenswear show. At a gym in the 11ème, models including Kristina Salinovic, Coco Rocha, Jessica Stam and Pre-Spring issue cover star Ajak Deng, creeped through Cathedral arches in sheer panelled dresses, horned shoulders and weapon heels, with body sculpture by Rein Vollenga. Gaga appeared writhing under a red light in black bra and hobble skirt and closed the show as Formichetti’s take on the bride. She has bought the entire collection; every piece in every colour. “The womenswear is about a new kind of tribe, a Mugler tribe, a tribe with no borders. Fashion with no limits,” Nicola enthuses. “I got inspired from African tribes, ancient Asian culture, aliens, outer space. And the men’s show, which I wanted to have some kind of connection to but not live too much in a similar world. For me, the women I vision are much much stronger than the boys, who are a bit more romantic.”
In the studio again, Nicola is working and Kremer stops to give us his insight into the slick machine they’re building. What qualities does he bring to the menswear? “A sharp vision, my knowledge in terms of development,” Romain considers. “We, Nicola and myself, share a world together and we make each other stronger.” Kremer is Paris’ poster boy for techno futurism, earning himself a strong following for his directional, modern clothes that draw on sportswear, tailoring, performance garments and science fiction. “People are being drawn into the project in a very fresh way, especially at a house of this level – that’s why I’m proud to be part of this team. Making Nicola artistic director was a strong thing to do. Mugler is still outrageous, hardcore. A new way of working and I want to be a part of it – we’re reaching a point when we see that things are very different from the way they were ten years ago.”
“A typical textbook way of building a house would be to do a showroom for a couple of seasons, really define the clothing first and slowly build on that. But it’s really not about this way. It’s about quality and a proposition – fabrics, colours and our attitude, which comes first,” Nicola, who was born to an Italian father and a Japanese mother and grew up between these two countries, summarises. “You can be a club kid or a rich man. Whatever, it’s great.” Formichetti lives and works between New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, and continues to relentlessly art direct Gaga – “she’s fucking fierce, like me,” he laughs. He remains Fashion Director of Vogue Hommes Japan as well as contributing stylist to magazines such as V. “I multitask because I don’t think of this as work. It’s fun. THIS. IS. FUN. I say this all the time. And now it’s more fun because I get to wear my own clothes. And with the girls, my friends can wear them.” There’s no doubting his passion in making Mugler as relevant to fashion obsessives today as Mr Mugler did in the 80s and 90s, bringing back fantasy and the fabulous. Things have just switched from analogue to digital. Download content to your wardrobe, laptop and command S to save changes.
Text: Dean Mayo Davies
Photography: Mariano Vivanco
Styling: Nicola Formichetti
Hair: Bob Recine
Make Up: Billy B
Set Design: Christopher Stone
Photography Assistance: Philip Gutman and Charles Quiles
Styling Assistance: Brandon Maxwell
Nail Technician: Aya Fukuda at Hair Room Service
Location: Hudson Studios
Lady Gaga wears jacket Mugler by Nicola Formichetti.