Casey Cadwallader was all too aware that he was the fifth designer to assume the helm of creative director at Mugler since its eponymous founder retired from fashion in 2002. “Many aspects were quite daunting, but now it’s such a fun house to work for, and that’s thanks to him,” says Cadwallader, who is bringing buzz to the storied French fashion house and dressing such stars as Beyoncé, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and Kim Kardashian. “[Manfred Thierry Mugler] laid out something that’s provocative and bold and is exciting and makes people feel sexy and chic and that they’re seen. That’s very different from a lot of other houses, and that’s why I want to take it very seriously, because I want that torch to burn bright.”
Manfred Thierry Mugler, who founded the house in 1973, played a role in defining 1990s fashion like few others, from the 1993 Indecent Proposal dress — worn by Demi Moore, it spawned millions of copies — to George Michael’s 1992 “Too Funky” video, starring a cadre of supermodels including Linda Evangelista and Tyra Banks. Mugler, whose designs fused sexuality and empowerment, died unexpectedly of natural causes in January at the age of 73. “It was a surprise, no question; I was expecting to mingle with him a bit more,” Cadwallader says. “Now I feel this responsibility to keep his work living, but it’s a weight I wear with pride.”
Cadwallader, 43, says he has likewise discovered things about himself since becoming the house’s creative director in 2018. “Casey at Mugler is not what Casey would be on his own,” he says. “Luckily I love the codes of this house, and you really have to educate yourself and know the archive. Maybe I’m a little less S&M than he was — and then I look at some of the things I do and think, ‘Maybe not.’ “
Cadwallader’s process starts with what he defines as “the Mugler silhouette: a big shoulder, a nipped waist and a curvy hip. While each season offers its variations, that’s the core.” The house doesn’t conform to the traditional fashion calendar, so the latest see-now-buy-now collection, Spring/Summer 2022, premiered in June and puts an emphasis on pieces like jackets with razor-sharp shoulders, body-con dresses and bondage-inspired bodysuits replete with straps.
The collection premiered with a star-studded video that included Megan Thee Stallion, Bella Hadid, Amber Valletta, Shalom Harlow and Chloë Sevigny. (Cadwallader also designed one of the three dresses Sevigny wore for her May wedding.) Other recent projects include performance looks for Cardi B and Dua Lipa: “Musicians needing things has become a big part of what we do,” says Cadwallader.
Another musician who came calling earlier this year: Beyoncé, who requested a custom design to wear for her latest album, Renaissance; Cadwallader’s gathered dress with integrated metal bustier (inspired by one of Thierry Mugler’s famed robot looks) is seen in promotions for the album, including the teaser for the “I’m That Girl” video. “That was an amazing piece, because I was ready to do my take on the Mugler robot, to begin to approach that part of the archive. Beyoncé was extremely responsive to that, so we worked around that idea and made different proposals,” says Cadwallader. “A lot of my fortune and success at Mugler has come down to these special relationships.”
Expansion is also very much a priority. “We’ve got more going on now than ever, and I think that’s a sign Mugler is really going to a new place,” Cadwallader says. “We have a lot of new product categories launching soon, a lot of new babies ready to show the world.”
Is he nervous? “Being scared is a good thing,” he says. “Mugler is very much about taking risks and putting yourself out there.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.