Mugler X H&M toast new collaboration with New York mega bash
Some things never get old. Especially when it comes to H&M's designer collaborations. On Wednesday night in New York, the Swedish fast-fashion giant feted their latest partnership with Mugler led by Casey Cadwallader for a sharp collection of house design staples from Cadwallader's tenure and the brand founder, the late Manfred Thierry Mugler, who passed away in 2022.
The evening brought a crowd of 800-plus club kid-worthy guests to an immersive multimedia experience highlighting Mugler's fashion and pop culture long associated with the brand. The event boasted celebrity fans such as Pamela Anderson, Charli XCX, Chloë Sevigny, Lourdes Leon, and Dominique Jackson and performances by Shygirl, Amaarae, and Eartheater, all of whom star in the Mugler H&M music video commissioned for the launch, 'Music Sounds Better With You', which debuted in advance of the event.
Owing to the scale of the production, the event was held at the Park Avenue Armory, which was transformed into a black box with a round center stage. A ring of LED lights shone down on the three-section curved platforms, which featured massive screens. The performers also included a Mugler-clad drill team and took various sections of the stage while models went up and down the sloped on-and-off ramps to make their way around the circular runway. As the musicians performed, cameras projected them from every angle up on screens, surely to appear in the approximately 150-plus stores that will feature the collection come May 11.
The extensive collection featured signature sheer panel looks, strong tailoring, corsets for both men and women, star-patterned pavè crystal pieces, reimagined hoodies, and bonded leather pieces at H&M prices, which were an expectational value proposition. Earlier in the day, Cadwallader and H&M creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson discussed the collection in a talk moderated by Vogue Runway's José Criales-Unzueta.
According to Johansson, her team keeps a running list of brands and designers they would like to collaborate with, and archival Mugler and Cadwallader were consistently at the top. When the project began, Mr. Mugler was involved and excited about it, even providing a few small sketches before passing.
The timing, however, according to Johansson and Cadwallader, was unrelated to the worldwide traveling exhibit of Mr. Mugler's work, 'Couturissme'.
"It wasn't connected to that, but it was luck. We started working on this 18 months ago," said Johansson. Cadwallader choked it up to the interest in archival Mugler designs in the last four to five years. (The exhibit, which opened in March 2019, helped introduce the late designer's work to a new audience, even one not so familiar with fashion akin to the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met.) He also cited that an iconic velvet and sheer dress was going for $20,000 on the site. (A search revealed the 1981 velvet Vampire dress for $18,000.)
Cadwallader stressed that his motivation for the collaboration was to democratize the clothes favored by a young and diverse fan base.
"I don't believe in fashion being for an exclusive few; I try to do tiers of prices," he said, adding, "I am happy to make luxury but also make it for young people excited about the brand, like the denim and Lycra pieces. Accessibility is a focus. When this collaboration came along, I saw it as an opportunity to give more people what they want to feel empowered and confident. I get messages on Instagram. I want Mugler and can't get it; I'm a nurse and want to feel fab too," the Mugler creative director said, by example.
H&M's pricing and the collection's quality offer a strong value proposition. Prices range from $100 to $150 for many dresses, tops, and hoodies; T-shirts and bras at $50 or below, with bonded leather pants and jackets maxing out at $749 for a leather trench coat. The designer said he had a clear vision of how he wanted to merchandise the collection (as did H&M, who is used to addressing every category of clothing and accessories).
"I walked into the first meeting with a few segments in mind. I wanted to do tailoring such as the black sculpted shoulder nipped-in waist as it is so iconic to the house; then a denim and Lycra segment of the 'hits' as I know my sales figures and I know what they want; next, a cute hot dress segment, all black and bright colors to bring joy to this whole fluid feminine segment; and then a hardcore leather club pants Berlin section inspired by Mr. Mugler himself," said Cadwallader, noting the H&M team pushed for more of the iconic leather pieces from the Mugler runway that were often too pricey to make it to the sales floor.
Cadwallader also pointed out that the partnership allowed Mugler to do other pieces that proved cost prohibitive, like crystal pavè on a group of styles. Though Johansson noted the designer put the brakes on a few styles. "A certain pair of men's underwear comes to mind," he joked.
He also praised the H&M design team for rising to the occasion to produce the clothes with his quality standards.
"When we were filming the video, I told my head of design it's kinda freaky because it looks exactly like what we do."
He assured me the garments weren’t exact replicas out of respect for the client paying full price. "I changed at least one thing on each garment; I dare the fans to figure it out," he said.
The designer said the collaboration, which Johannsson calls a new way of working, also allowed for categories not seen at Mugler.
"We made scarves, swimwear hosiery, and tote bags which was fun for me. We also did a whole collection of menswear. I have been doing 'sneaky mens' to make jeans that fit me. This collaboration allowed me to explore the real men's offer at Mugler.
Johansson pointed out this particular offering had a unique approach. "It's classic Mugler and the new one under Casey. It resonated with the team to be a history of the house from its birth to its rebirth. It's nice to educate that it's an iconic brand. It's like a fashion history lesson from the 70s. Sadly he passed away, but he was keen on the idea of joining archive pieces with new styles; to have that conversation of how they worked together," she said of the brand, which will celebrate its 50th year in 2024.
Another new approach was the video, according to Cadwallader.
"Pop culture is a big part of Mugler. There are sculptural clothes that work with the body's curves and then pop culture. It was so important for me to get Mugler back on pop stars, back on the stage, because the brand has a performative aspect. It was part of what Mr. Mugler did in the shows, whom he touched and engaged with; it was about the performer. They represent confidence and bringing yourself to your highest high. You can bring that out of everyone in the clothes," he said.
He also noted that their approach to the video was different.
"It was flipping what we usually do because we chose music and then filmed it; usually, we filmed it and then added music. Besides, who doesn't love a girl band," he said, referencing the video, which also stars legends Jerry Hall and Connie Fleming, aka Connie Girl, a model and iconic New York nightlife fixture since the eighties.
As a trans woman, Fleming represents the diversity of the world Cadwallader has built. The collaboration with the Swedish retailer has also championed the cause with an extensive range of sizing. Being able to offer all body types something from the collection was front and center.
"I fundamentally believe the world is full of beautiful people, and that doesn't stop them from being who they are, so I work with them. I was raised in a household with strong and powerful women with curves. I heard what happened in the fitting room. 'I love this dress, and damn it, I can't fit into it,' I often heard. The idea that the clothes were sending people in that bad spiral in the fitting room because they were rejecting their bodies made me want to work towards people not having that experience," he said, noting that there is a robot that changes sizes in the Mugler atelier to understand the garment on different body types.
"The more I work with curvy women, the better designer I become. I wasn't trained to work on curvy bodies; no designer was. It comes from pushing yourself to do it."
The event culminated with a tiered-entry shopping event that felt like a Squid Game-style clothing scavenger hunt, with folks clamoring to get their hands on the limited-edition pieces before the public offering. Cadwallader recalled his experience as a guest at the Versace X H&M collaboration party.
"I was elbowing people in the pop-up to get what I wanted. When the idea for this collaboration came up, I said, 'We have to have a huge party.' I couldn't say no to the idea of putting Mugler into that group of collaborations," he continued.
The H&M collaborations started with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004 and have included brands such as Stella McCartney, Moschino, Maison Margiela, Balmain, Isabel Marant, Comme des Garçons, Lanvin, Simone Rocha and Giambattista Valli.
For its part, H&M doesn't show any signs of stopping.
"Getting to know the brand and sharing skills and knowledge is super exciting. It's a lot of fun to do these. Each is special because we work with special people. As long as the customers love them, we will keep doing them," said Johansson.
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