A memory of Manfred Thierry Mugler 

London critics panned the 2019 premiere of McGregor + Mugler, the ballet collaboration between powerhouses choreographer Wayne McGregor and fashion designer Manfred Thierry Mugler, but I was not one of them.

Sitting in the London Coliseum, I remember have many questions throughout the 15-minute performance, part of a mixed program put on by the Russian MuzArts, featuring a duet created on the Bolshoi’s Olga Smirnova, partnered by the Royal Ballet’s Edward Watson. The piece started with the two costumed like robot space warriors and then as the piece progressed, they shed their masks and sculpted, hard linear armor, finishing in embellished skin-tight leotards that highlighted their bodies and emphasised their human nature.

I think generally many audiences expect story ballets, where the plot is laid out for them in an easy-to-follow manner in the program, so any time they are expected to have to take part of the meaning-creation process, they lose interest. In McGregor + Mugler it was not only the costumes, but also the process of decostuming that serves as a plot device. McGregor and Mugler integrated the costumes and the decostuming into the piece in a way that they were making both choreographic and fashion statements, relying on the audience to fit the pieces together—but British audiences must not have understood the assignment.

The costumes in any ballet performance are semiotic markers, and thus knowledge of the language of fashion, in addition to the language of ballet, is imperative for one’s understanding of a piece. Semiotician J.M. Lotman writes in the 2009 Culture and Explosion that

Fashion is always semiotic. Included in fashion is a continuous process of the transformation of the insignificant into the significant. The semioticity of fashion is manifested, in particular, in the fact that it always implies an observer. He who speaks the language of fashion is the creator of new information, unanticipated by the audience and incomprehensible to it. The audience must not understand fashion and must be agitated by it. In this lies the victory of fashion.

Mugler is known as a fashion icon, but he trained as a dancer in Strasbourg, France, before becoming a professional designer. Smirnova, quoted in Katerina Bornovitskaya’s 2021 “The Universe by Thierry Mugler,” states that Mugler was very precise in the details and her image, working with her to design a costume that would translate his style in a way that would allow her to move freely for McGregor’s dynamic choreography.

In the same article Bornovitskaya also notes that Mugler’s costume design credits include Demi Moore’s memorable black dress in Indecent Proposal, Comédie-Française’s MacBeth, Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity, as well as stage costumes for many musicians including Beyonce, David Bowie and Diana Ross.

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is currently exhibiting Thierry Mugler, Couturissime through April, which includes “ready-to-wear and haute couture silhouettes to stage costumes, photographs, films and unpublished archives dating from 1973 to 2014.”

Design historian Emily M. Orr, who wrote the biographical entry for Bloomsbury’s Fashion Photography Archive, recommends this reading list:

  • Bott, Danieèle. Thierry Mugler: Galaxy Glamour . London: Thames & Hudson, 2010.
  • Mugler, Thierry, and Francçois, Baudot. Thierry Mugler . London: Thames & Hudson, 1998.
  • Mugler, Thierry, Claude, Deloffre, and Marylou, Luther. Thierry Mugler: Fashion, Fetish, Fantasy . London: Thames & Hudson, 1998.
Header image: Olga Smirnova by Alisa Aslanova for La Personne (2021) used with permission.

André Leon Talley found fashion at local library

Fashion journalist André Leon Talley found career inspiration at a young age at the local public library. Nicola Shulman writes in a 2020 review of Talley‘s memoir The Chiffon Trenches,

At the local library in his home town of Durham, North Carolina, he studied the holdings of fashion magazines and sucked up their details like a sponge: the clothes; the designers; the names, homes and precepts of the New York fabulosiat, and all the lovely things they owned that placed them in this class.

In a 2018 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Talley confirms this, stating that that the future fashion journalist

discovered fashion through the pages of Vogue. I went to the public library in Durham, N.C. And I was about 10 years old or maybe 9. And I discovered this magazine called Vogue. And in those days, it came out on the 1 and the 15 of every month. And the editor was Diana Vreeland. And this was my escape world.

Julia Reed writes in 2018 that besides disappearing into the pages of Vogue, Talley also

checked out Marylin Bender’s seminal The Beautiful People and The Fashionable Savages by John Fairchild, publisher and editor in chief of Women’s Wear Daily, where he would eventually work.

The Durham County Library’s North Carolina Collection includes Talley’s first memoir A.L.T.: a memoir in their North Carolina Biography collection, as well as a biography file of notable Durhamites past and present.

The Kirkwood Branch of the Fulton County Library System in Atlanta, Ga., created a recommended reading list titled Andre Talley and BIPOC in Haute Couture to highlight resources by and about Talley and other fashion icons.

Header image: André Leon Talley and Dr. Valerie Steele discuss John Galliano for Dior, a book showcasing John Galliano’s creations for the House of Dior, at an event at the Museum at FIT December 4, 2019. (Photo by Eileen Costa). https://flic.kr/p/2iKVNuB

GI Drag: Military drag performances in Word War II

In an article for the National WWII Museum Aaron Jura writes in “GIs as Dolls: Uncovering the Hidden Histories of Drag Entertainment During Wartime,” that drag performances in war zones have been part of American culture since the late 19th century and were utilised in World Wars I and II, but it was during WWII that these performances were recognised by the government as important for keeping up troop morale.

According to Jura

The Army Special Services produced, published, and distributed handbooks for soldier shows. These publications, known as Blueprint Specials, contained everything you would need to put on an approved and pre-scripted soldier show. Blueprint Specials for soldier shows even included dress making patterns and suggestions for material procurement.

Due to the fact that the military was not sexually integrated, male soldiers played both male and female parts in the show. In fact, according to Jura, females were prohibited from performing due to the sexist ideas of supposed impropriety, however they were allowed to help with makeup, feminisation coaching and costuming.

Costuming could be difficult, especially in remote overseas outposts. The USO, in conjunction with the Red Cross, would ship costuming materials all around the world to ensure that soldier shows could go on no matter where they might be. In some areas, soldiers had to improvise with materials they could get a hold of in the local area. The Blueprint Special handbooks provided the patterns, so all a soldier needed was some material. Alan Bérubé’s book, Coming Out Under Fire, highlights the favorite materials of those stationed in the South Pacific, including semaphore flags, mop heads, coconut shells, and various tropical fruits. 

Below is the costuming chapter from The Blueprint Special handbook #2 “Hi, Yank!” courtesy University of Maryland libraries and the Internet Archive, including a beautiful showgirl dress to be made from a salvaged G.I. blanket. Costume designs by Lt. Robert T. Stevenson and Sgt . Al Hamilton, drawn by Technician Fourth Grade Edward E. Wolf.

According to historian George Chauncey, director of the Columbia Research Initiative on the Global History of Sexualities, as quoted in the New-York Historical Society’s WWII & NYC: Staging Soldier Shows from Burma to Broadway, it was the military who was responsible for bringing female impersonation back to the theatrical stages.

New-York Historical Society. 2012. “WWII & NYC: Staging Soldier Shows from Burma to Broadway.” https://youtu.be/yN1C_bPC4tc

Some photos from This Is The Army Collection, WWII 121, WWII Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

New for 2021: LCSHs for fashion, textile & costume librarians

Art Libraries Society of North America colleague and assistant director of the New York Public Library‘s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs Deirdre Donohue sends out monthly topical additions related to Art & Architecture Library of Congress Subject Headings. Here is a 2021 roundup of those that may be of interest to fashion, textile and costume librarians.

150 Bead embroidery–Patterns
150 Carnival beads [May Subd Geog]
150 Clothing and dress–Indonesia
150 Craftivism [May Subd Geog]
150 Costume–China–History–Song-Yuan dynasties, 960-1368
150 Decoration and ornament, Mogul Empire [May Subd Geog]
150 Decoration and ornament, Rajput [May Subd Geog] 
150 Dye houses [May Subd Geog]
150 Embroidery, Uzbek [May Subd Geog]
150 Ethnic costume [May Subd Geog]    
150 Fashion and globalization [May Subd Geog]
150 Military decorations–Romania
150 Moctezuma’s headdress
150 Ordinul “Mihai Viteazul”
150 Pearl necklaces [May Subd Geog]
150 Ribbon skirts [May Subd Geog]
150 Tapestry, Mogul Empire [May Subd Geog]
150 Tepehua textile fabrics [May Subd Geog]
150 Textile fabrics, Simalungun [May Subd Geog]

Featured image: Flower Power, a bead-embroidered shirt, part of the Free Belarus collection designed by Nastya Vasjuchenkа for her brand Kanva, Sept. 2020. 

Call for Media Reviewers for the Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion journal

The Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion journal is looking for media reviewers for the 2022 and 2023 issues. The review will be focused on men’s fashion and could be of any form of media including an upcoming book, exhibit, or movie.

The reviews are usually between 2,000 and 3,000 words, but you can use more (or less) words if that fits you better. Please find the Intellect Style Guide linked here. Should you have further questions or would like to see past media review examples, please let me know. I can be reached via email (lamorean@newschool.edu). Thank you in advance!

Nicole LaMoreaux

Assistant Director, Research & Instructional Services

The New School Media Review Editor, Critical Studies of Men’s Fashion

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