January 18, 2011 Paris
The label that still bears his name—now rechristened simply Mugler—is suddenly in the hands of another frantically obsessed-upon man who's made a side career of dressing a larger-than-life diva. He is the stylist Nicola Formichetti, and the diva in question is, of course, Lady Gaga. They—and many others, including designer Romain Kremer; photographer-filmmaker Mariano Vivanco; and a young Canadian with a face covered in skeletal tattoos named Rico—collaborated to create the debut Mugler menswear presentation, which kicked off the shows in Paris with enough buzz to amount to a bang. Editors, stylists, and demimondaines not otherwise in evidence at the men's collections came to a garage on the rue de Turenne to see the spectacle; over a hundred more ticketless acolytes huddled outside, hoping for a glimpse.
When the lights went down, a Vivanco film (starring tattooed Rico, alternately clawing at his latex-covered face and enveloped in a billowing veil) and a Gaga soundtrack (an unreleased number from her upcoming album, remixed for the occasion) came up. And then began the stomping parade of slight but furious-looking boys, their hair matted with grease and oil, some of their faces plastered with latex.
Their clothes mostly read as new—not old—Mugler. They borrowed certain signatures from the house's expansive vocabulary: the strong shoulders on the jackets, the shorn lapels, something of the originator's talent as a colorist. But they were quieter than Mugler's own brand of bombast, and less witty; they brought out the sinister side of suiting, the darker connotations of uniform. Formichetti's fabrics, especially the man-made neoprene, plastic, nylon, and latex, were sensuously textured but chilly—every other piece shone, but it was light without heat. The silhouettes alternated between painted-on tightness and, via baggy, pleated trousers, super-sized bulk—references to Mugler's preoccupations with superheroes, their mass and their costumes.
Pare the looks down to their composite pieces, and it's not clear how revolutionary they'll look. (Formichetti, backstage, pronounced the collection "wearable" with a touch of wonder.) Some grumbling was heard in the audience: This was styled more than designed, the criticism ran, a moving editorial rather than a fashion show, though ironically, these gripes largely claim from Formichetti's fellow stylists But there were also plenty of onlookers who were galvanized by what they'd seen. There were moments of real beauty, including those that don't necessarily come through via photograph (one reason that Formichetti, like many of his compatriots in fashion's emerging new guard, is so interested in video and film). And for the millions of people without the baggage of the original—and millions is no exaggeration; Lady Gaga alone commands the attention of more than 7 million on Twitter, where she's been relentlessly publicizing the label—this is all a brave new world. Too soon to tell if this project will have legs in the long term, but hard to deny that it took a clamorous first step, and one that gave a tonic jolt to this so-far sleepy season.