Look from Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1995–96 “Anniversaire des 20 ans” collection. Photo: Karl Lagerfeld.

Look from Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1995–96 “Anniversaire des 20 ans” collection. Photo: Karl Lagerfeld.

Thierry Mugler

Look from Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1995–96 “Anniversaire des 20 ans” collection. Photo: Karl Lagerfeld.

I HAVE MADE A BREAKTHROUGH in the psychoanalytic study of fags, or psychofaganalysis—thanks to Thierry Mugler.

At “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime,” a retrospective of his oeuvre at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montréal, I was able to answer a question that has long plagued psychofag-analysts.

The question: Why do fags so often create fashion?

The answer: They don’t create it; it creates them.

View of “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime,” 2019. Foreground: Zumanity stage costume, 2003. Background: The Wyld stage costume, 2014.

“Couturissime” displays more than 150 of Mugler’s designs. It includes runway showpieces, projections of runway shows and music videos, and costumes he designed for the Comédie-Française, a theatrical company that’s been around since Louis XIV ruled France. It’s accompanied by an adulatory catalogue that lays out the facts of his career but doesn’t even try to tell us why fashion makes fags.

Fashion makes fags so that fags make fashion.

“Since it is common knowledge that male homosexuals in extraordinary numbers are involved in fashion-creation,” Edmund Bergler wrote in Fashion and the Unconscious (1953), “there is a tentative discussion of whether or not the unconscious hatred of women typical for every homosexual has been responsible for some of the dress absurdities of the last half-century.”

Bergler was an analyst and an associate of Freud’s famous for his homophobia and his fixation on fag fashion designers. He believed that homosexuals dressed women as monsters.

Thierry Mugler is his nightmare.

Look from Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1997–98 “La Chimère” collection. Photo: Alan Strutt.

“Couturissime” is a monster mash. There are vamps, she-devils, glamazons. There’s a fish-woman in a fishtail gown with fins. There are women who appear to be wearing parts of Cadillacs—dashboards, fenders, lights—or who appear to be Cadillacs themselves.

Fagginess, Bergler believed, begins when a baby sees his mother as a monster who withholds comfort on a whim. The baby begins to take pleasure in being denied. To counter this masochism, he aggresses against her, then goes gay.

Presto! A pervert.

Look from Thierry Mugler’s Spring/Summer 1997 “Les Insectes” collection. Photo: Brad Branson and Fritz Kok.

“Couturissime” is a pervert’s paradise. There are corsets. There are clothes that look tattooed or that are pierced with hoops and studs. Vinyl, rubber, queer cuir—there are materials to please almost every paraphilia. Mechanophilia: He designed robot bodices. Formicophilia: He designed a dress after an ant’s carapace. Teratophilia: He designed a couture chimera in golden armor and sequin scales. Then there are dresses that mimic shellfish. Are such creations acts of zoophilia, or autozoophilia, or are they overtures to vorarephilia?

What is Mugler’s fetish?

Manfred Thierry Mugler was born in Strasbourg, France, and was raised there and in Vittel, near Nancy.

Nancy is a synonym for fag.

Mugler affirms that fashion is the fabric of fagginess and that fagginess is the faggiest of all perversions.

Mugler’s father was a doctor. Mugler didn’t become a doctor. His mother was a fashion plate who wore couture. He became a couturier.

Freud tells us that the fetish is the image of the final thing a subject sees, be it shoes or underwear or pubic hair (which becomes fur or cloth in the fetishistic psyche), before he sees that his mother is missing a phallus. For Mugler, it was Chanel, Cardin, or Courrèges: not cloth, not clothing, but high fashion, the hautest of the haute.

In my psychofaganalytic opinion, his fetish is fashion itself—constantly fleeting and fleetingly constant.

Mugler studied classical dance with the National Opera of the Rhine in Strasbourg, then moved to Paris. Fashion found him. He was a passive pervert, fetishizing clothes he saw on the streets, in the stores. In his mid-twenties, he turned from passive to active fag: He started creating clothes.

Though he had no formal fashion training, he started producing a prêt-à-porter line in his apartment-cum-studio in 1974. The earliest pieces in “Couturissime” date to 1978: unisex uniforms for some far-off planet’s armed forces. They bear the influence of Stalin’s tunics, sci-fi B movies, and Ronald Kolodzie, a designer who often outfitted Richie Gallo. Gallo was an American performance artist who looked like a sadomasochistic alien: a Martian who fell into the Mineshaft.

Linda Evanglista in a Thierry Mugler look for George Michael’s “Too Funky” music video, 1992. Photo: Patrice Stable.

In 1979, David Bowie donned a glittering finned gown by Mugler for his “Boys Keep Swinging” music video. It made Mugler the man of the New Wave moment. In 1980, the band Rough Trade released its first studio album. The album was art-directed by General Idea, and it featured front woman Carole Pope on its cover. She was butch as fuck in a militaristic Mugler coat. She sang about s/m, drag, Nazism. On the single “Fashion Victim,” she sang: “Montana, Fendi, Lagerfeld, Mugler, Kenzo, Chloé / I’m a victim of fashion and accessories.”

The album was called Avoid Freud.

Mugler got famous. By the early 1980s, his shows were spectacles: He sold tickets to see them and thousands paid. Critics criticized him for being misogynistic—shades of Bergler’s insistence that homosexuals hate women. Critics criticized him for his “Nazi” aesthetic—again, shades of Bergler and his insistence that kapos at concentration camps were sadistic criminal homos.

Nazism was a weird thing for Mugler to be accused of, considering that his signature suit—sharp shoulders, wasp waist, peplum—was an update of the victory suit American women wore in World War II. It was weird, too, considering that his shows starred drag queens, club kids, and icons of pop music and porn: They were more Weimar than Wehrmacht. It was as if the degenerates had destroyed the Third Reich, becoming sleeker, stronger, more super in the process. Arbeit macht fierce.

In 1992, Mugler presented haute couture for the first time. The couture in “Couturissime” is even pervier than the prêt-à-porter. There’s a dress that’s meant to hang from nipple piercings. There’s a robe encrusted with Swarovski crystals on the inside: Wouldn’t it hurt to wear that? There’s a riding-coat-style suit whose décolletage is decorated with crystals that look like ice and with faux fur that looks like snow. Frozen fur—it’s so Sacher-Masoch.

In 2002, Mugler exited the fashion world to concentrate on directing cabarets and costuming Cirque du Soleil. He left behind an archive of thousands of singular garments. He also left behind a line of perfumes: Angel, his first scent, has been a best seller since it was introduced more than two decades ago. The fragrance incorporates ethyl maltol, a compound that has long appeared in trace amounts in perfumes. In Angel, it’s the top note. It smells like candy. The secondary notes aren’t so sweet: Deep patchouli and musk deliver a whiff of feces, or perhaps of Freud. Fetishes, Freud says, sometimes find a foothold in fecal smells.

What isn’t Mugler’s fetish? The man has a fetish for fetishes. Or is it a fetish for fetishes for fetishes? A fetish for fetishes for fetishes for fetishes?

Perversions, Bergler said, always work their way to the surface. Mugler multiplies perversions and then the perversions pervert perversions so that perversions spill perversely across the surfaces of his clothes like sperm.

Mugler affirms that fashion is the fabric of fagginess and that fagginess is the faggiest of all perversions. Bergler affirms the perfect circle of this perversion: Since fashion allows fags to dress women as monsters, then boys will always see their mothers as monsters. This means that there will always be gay boys. This means that there will always be gay boys who go into fashion. This means that fashion—like fagginess—is forever.

Italics are mine. 

“Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” is on view through September 8.

Derek McCormack lives in Toronto. His most recent novel is<em> The Well-Dressed Wound (Semiotext[e], 2015), about the fashion designer Martin Margiela.</em> I Am the Coin, 2010, a collaboration with the artist Micah Lexier, is currently on view at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.