‘Thierry Mugler Had That Fire.’ John Epperson Remembers the Fashion Visionary

2 minute read

Thierry Mugler had that fire. He had the passion, not only the big vision but also the meticulousness needed to design clothes well—down to what exactly a curve should look like, and how it should be executed.

I first met Mugler, who died at 73 on Jan. 23, in 1989 when he discovered my off-Broadway show—I performed as my über-glam female character, Lypsinka. He hired me to jump out of a cake at his birthday party; he later said he wanted me to be a part of his spring/summer 1992 runway show at Paris Fashion Week. This was something that I had long dreamed of: to be in a Parisian fashion show wearing women’s clothes.

We realize that your body type is not the same as our house model, he told me as the show was approaching. Well duh, I’m a man. So I went to Paris two weeks before the show, just for fittings. That was pretty glamorous—it was my Funny Face moment.

My performance involved me peeling away layers of my look as I lip-synched and posed and literally crawled down the catwalk; from a parody of Dior’s 1950s New Look in black to a sequined cowgirl-meets-showgirl costume to what I called a Russ Meyer baby-doll gown. It gave the seen-it-all-crowd something to cheer about. After the Paris event, we worked together at shows in Tokyo and Los Angeles, as well as in the iconic George Michael music video “Too Funky,” itself a stylized version of the real-life chaos backstage.

Mugler had a great sense of humor and an irreverence about fashion. He liked to see European and American pop sensibilities collide with couture. It’s been said that my performance in his show was a watershed moment for queer representation in mainstream fashion. Did we know that then? I don’t know. We didn’t say, “Let’s do the queerest thing we can think of.” We didn’t analyze. Looking back, I think we were provocateurs who saw the runway as a place for Surrealist theater, and that’s what Mugler continued to create, beautifully, until he chose to stop.

—As told to Sanya Mansoor

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