By Ava Gilchrist

Mister Couturissime: An Exclusive Interview With Casey Cadwallader of Mugler

Thierry Mugler established himself as one of the most daring and innovative designers of the late twentieth century. GRAZIA sits down with the House’s creative director Casey Cadwallader to discuss the nuances of the Mugler lexicon.
ART Kimberlee Kessler

Manfred Thierry Mugler: Fashion disrupter, diva, and original enfant terrible, sent from a planet on the outer rim to Earth to suspend reality and transcend time. The greatest showman. In a world before Brazilian butt lifts and rentable sex bots—though we’re sure he would’ve thoroughly enjoyed both—Mugler’s exceptional creativity and counterculture approach to codifying the avant-garde changed the fashion landscape forever. Mugler did more than make clothes, he created fantasies. A dripping latex-covered Kim Kardashian drowning in decadent crystals at the Met Gala in 2019, Linda Evangelista as a siren showgirl, and arguably most famously, a modern Madonna-esque Simonetta Gianfelici birthed from a magnificent shell skirt wearing nothing but opera gloves and pearls as Mugler sartorially created Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

But Mugler’s world wasn’t just bravado and extravagance, his modus operandi was creating a living, breathing visual language, like in his hallmark 20th-anniversary fall/winter 1995 ‘Cirque d’Hiver’ collection. Otherworldly in every sense of the world, Mugler’s hour-long, 109-look extravaganza birthed the spectacular catwalk idée fixe that has saturated the contemporary fashion industry. But it’s not just the structure of the show—which saw Mugler curating and controlling every detail, right down to the lighting—that was so memorable, but the actual garments themselves which ranged from (at the time) salacious displays of sexuality to glamorous uses of plexiglass and clinical metals. If it wasn’t for his theatrical flair, would the runway be as flamboyant, or stellar? Probably not, but it wouldn’t have you going down in history as the pinnacle of exhibition.

Now, a new Monsieur Couturissime, American Casey Cadwallader, is ushering the House of Mugler into its next era. One that pays homage to the pageantry of Mugler’s heritage, meanwhile simultaneously pushing the boundaries of the brand beyond something that is exclusively sculptural or reliant on spectacle. Still operating within the rich and dimensional codes of the luxuriate, Cadwallader’s vision is to bring Mugler to the masses, a goal he is achieving with his first mainstream design collaboration with H&M since taking the helm at the brand in 2018. Cadwallader invites GRAZIA into his brave new world, discussing his unique approach to collaboration—something he learnt from Mugler himself—and how peeling back the layers of the House of Mugler is making modern-day icons.

ART Kimberlee Kessler

GRAZIA: Both you and Thierry Mugler share a love of theatrics and performance, what is it about the showmanship that comes from exuberant runway performances and over-the-top craftsmanship that you feel resonates with you artistically? Why do you think this extravagant presentation model is so pertinent today?

Casey Cadwallader: I think I’m interested in the ideals and goals of performance and transformation—the idea of clothing that allows you to become a different version of yourself or one of the many versions of yourself that you like to inhabit. I think that Mugler’s theatricality is quite deep actually—it’s not just about how it feels for the audience to watch a good show, but instead about how the garments shape and provoke and inspire the person wearing them. Who they become when in them. It’s really about the power of clothing, the impact of fashion.

GRAZIA: A lot of your own creative partnerships include working with pop culture icons like Dua Lipa and Kylie Jenner. How do you feel about ushering in a new era of Mugler’s history through designing these incredibly recognisable garments, like Dua’s tour catsuits?

Casey Cadwallader: Well Mugler has a really long relationship with the worlds of culture and music—it’s really a part of the story and ethos of the house. Thierry dressed so many iconic musicians and cast many of them in his shows. And, as you say, I’ve also been honoured to work closely with so many of today’s great cultural and musical innovators. I feel proud that so many icons have chosen to wear my designs, and that they feel that Mugler is a house that helps them express themselves. I wanted to celebrate that connection to music and culture within the campaign for this collection—that’s why it sits somewhere between a music video, a fashion film and even a talk show. It features a remake of Stardust’s 1998 hit Music Sounds Better With You, which is a song I’ve always loved—to me it’s about community, about friendship and fun, about how music is brought to life by who you are with, who you surround yourself with. I see it all as a homage to the House’s relevance in the world of dance, music, performance, club culture, and to the many distinct characters that have always been welcomed by the House of Mugler. It’s an amazing mix and highlights that Mugler is for everyone.

GRAZIA: The Mugler brand will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2025. Looking toward the future of the business, how do you envision balancing the theatrical DNA of the Maison in a society focused on gimmick culture?

Casey Cadwallader: I think it’s about staying true to the house. I have always felt that Mugler has a strong perspective, a strong image and set of values, so it never feels like we are trying to compete with others, or making outlandish statements, because we are always staying true to the codes of the house. I think flamboyance, and showmanship, are very different to gimmicks—with Mugler, the theatricality is always intelligent, provocative, and most importantly, empowering.

GRAZIA: What element of Mugler’s legacy inspires you the most?

Casey Cadwallader: I’ll always be inspired by his legacy, in so many different ways. I have always been interested in the core ideals of Mugler, as a house—the sociological ones, about diversity, openness, joy, gender-fluidity, and self-expression, and the aesthetic ones—the couture meets street feel, the twist on tailoring, the subcultural elements, the fascination with the lines of the human form and the body. It’s a balance, between image, and principles. With this collection, it’s really a homage to both a celebration of our staples, and affirmation of the Mugler energy of inclusion, boldness, sensuality, and joy.

This article was first published in the print edition of Grazia Malaysia September 2023.