Purple Magazine
— The Island Issue #35 S/S 2021

mugler s/s 2021


photography by OLIVIER ZAHM
interview with designer CASEY CADWALLADER
location IBIZA

shot at an abandoned hotel built in 1969 by the modernist catalan architect josep lluís sert in the north of ibiza, where stefan brüggemann installed his conceptual wall posters.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Where are you from?
CASEY CADWALLADER — I grew up in New Hampshire, near Boston. New England. Very conservative. Very white. But at a young age, I started going to New York City. I only wanted to go to there because I was gay, and I knew I needed to. That’s when I started to learn about other people and other cultures.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, Casey, at Mugler you’re inspired by the legacy of Thierry Mugler and his aesthetic, of course, but you’ve pushed it somewhere else, and you’re opening new possibilities for fashion.
CASEY CADWALLADER — Yes, when I first arrived at Mugler, my impulse was, “These are really big shoes to fill” because what he did was so powerful. But this brand became what it is because Mr. Mugler did not give a shit about the rules. I’m not Mr. Mugler, I never will be, but the one thing that I can take from him is that spirit of doing what you believe is right. There’s something really special about this place, and as a new designer who’s never been a creative director, there’s a sense of freedom…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because it’s the first time that you’re really in charge.
CASEY CADWALLADER — Right — of what it represents, the casting, etc. I also feel a synergy because he really believed in diversity. He believed in powerful women, but also powerful gays, powerful transgender people. He was totally into butch women, super femme women, feminine men, butch men, and all of the different in-betweens. And that’s also true for me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Already in the ’80s.
CASEY CADWALLADER — That’s the thing. In the ’80s, he was presenting these amazing new identities to the front-row Parisian bourgeoisie, which I think is so great to look at in the old shows. There’s this amazing performer walking down the runway, and in the front row, you have all these rich old women with their eyes wide open. And they loved it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Not even understanding that it was a man.
CASEY CADWALLADER — Probably. But he believed in it, and coming into this role, I saw it as an amazing opportunity to try to do something with that. Because of late, I hadn’t really seen Mugler embodying the spirit of what is “right now.” For me, that’s about people. There are two sides to Mugler: one is about making clothes, and the other is the cultural aspect. I knew that the brand would only come back to life if the cultural part returned.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And it’s your job to connect the cultural context with the shapes, colors, fabrics. You can’t inject culture into a brand if it doesn’t work with the clothes, right?
CASEY CADWALLADER — Exactly. It’s definitely a dance of the two things together.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s what we call brand integrity.
CASEY CADWALLADER — For sure. I do study the archive very carefully. I know it very well: how it’s constructed, the fabrics… But I look at it, and then I have to go off in my own direction. There are codes that I can bring forward, but I have to make them my own; otherwise, it’s inauthentic. In fashion, rule number one is to trust yourself and not pay attention to what anyone else is doing, and when I read your brief about the island, that was the one thing that came to my mind.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Going back to Mugler in the ’80s, what’s super interesting is that all this alternative identity culture — transgender, feminism — was already there, but it was purely underground, limited to clubs or fashion shows. But now, it’s in the street, right?
CASEY CADWALLADER — The path has been cleared for transgender people to be themselves all the time. And before, they were trying to express it, but they maybe were a little bit too ahead of society…

OLIVIER ZAHM — And they could only do it in specific…
CASEY CADWALLADER — Safe spaces, basically. Now, it’s about being able to express yourself in all the same places that everyone else expresses themselves in. These are still pressing issues for me, and though Mr. Mugler touched upon them, what’s happening right now in terms of diversity across all the spectrums, I think, can also really change fashion. I mean, given that this is my first time calling the shots, I didn’t want to come in and only cast girls who were six-foot-five and 18 years old because I personally find that boring. For me, it was about having older women, shorter women, all different ethnicities, all different body shapes and expressions of gender — trans people, cis people, everything goes for me because it’s about energy. You can have someone walk in the room who’s drop-dead gorgeous, but they give off a bad energy. Or you can have someone who’s not traditionally beautiful come in and just amaze you with the way that they move and think.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And the way they embrace your designs.
CASEY CADWALLADER — For sure. It’s a responsibility, too, because as a designer, what you put out there helps to push the boundaries of what is considered beautiful today. Beautiful needs to move forward and tell the story of more people. There are so many young people who don’t even think about gender — it’s just the way they live now. We all have to catch up and give respect to these people.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But as a designer, doesn’t it also push fashion in a direction that can be perceived as being extreme?
CASEY CADWALLADER — You have to find a balance because Mugler is something that can be very extreme. There’s a lot of delicate dancing that happens when you decide which member of my cast is going to wear a piece. If you do a racy bodysuit that all of a sudden goes on this person, the two things together … sometimes it’s too much. It’s about connecting people to what they would really want to wear. No one really gave a shit about that in the past.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Just put it on and…
CASEY CADWALLADER — “Shut up. Wear this and go.” And for me, it’s the opposite. My hope is that when you watch 30 looks come out, that every single person is excited about what they’re wearing, that you feel it. That, for me, is the Mugler spirit. These super confident, sexy people…

OLIVIER ZAHM — When you design clothes, are there conventions that you are consciously looking to break?
CASEY CADWALLADER — In a fashion house, there’s the collection and your image, and then there’s also the commercial side. I’m trying to make them not be different. If something costs less, I try to put more work into it, so that it’s more special than anyone else’s Lycra top, for example. Trying to push technology, push the fabrics, which is also something that this brand was built on. Any time a new fabric came out, Mr. Mugler used it. He was really into fleece when it came out, also Lycra, and latex. I’m hungry for finding the next thing and trying to use technology to be more sustainable. Lycra can be a 100% recycled nylon now. But then, it’s a pretty basic fabric, right? What’s good about it is that it’s stretchy, and it looks sexy on everybody, but what can you do to it to make it higher than just buying a nice pair of leggings at Nike? Can you bond it? Can you shape the body in a different way? By the time Mugler is done with it, the idea is that it looks very foreign, it looks like a totally weird new thing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you’re competing with Nike?
CASEY CADWALLADER — Everyone is, today. I’ve been here for three years now, and the sporty part of the collection is what’s selling the most. Fashion now is also mainly sold online. So, when you sell something, and it’s not stretchy, and you send it to someone’s house, they put it on, and they go: “Oh, too small. Too big.” And back it goes. And the person can have a bad time. They’re like: “Oh, my boobs are too big for this. My body’s wrong.” So, I want to send something that can stretch like crazy.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A second skin.
CASEY CADWALLADER — Second skin. I want everyone to get it and be like, “Oh, this was made for me.” It can be this new-world couture, where you design everything to react to the body…You’re letting people’s bodies be what they are, but trying to enhance them lightly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you also have some beautiful structured jackets.
CASEY CADWALLADER — Oh, yeah, tailoring has always been my favorite thing to work on. And in the history of Mugler, tailoring is so important. The first thing you think about with Mugler is a black, strong jacket. So, there’ll always be that…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did he have a strong team of tailors?
CASEY CADWALLADER — Amazing, and an amazing tailoring factory. And even now, we try to hire tailors who worked with Mr. Mugler back then. There are codes. I mean, Mugler is a strong shoulder, a tiny waist, and a curvy hip, and it’s fun to take something that’s iconic and twist it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you aware, Casey, that you’re one of the most looked-at designers these days? There’s you, Bottega Veneta, and Gucci, still. Which also means you have people copying.
CASEY CADWALLADER — I mean, fashion is about that. The best is when a drag queen copies you. It’s a tradition that they make their own looks, and Plastique Tiara and Naomi Smalls, who are both on RuPaul’s Drag Race — big, big queens in the US — they copied the Beyoncé bodysuit and wore it together in a picture. If someone’s copying you, it means people are looking, and it makes you feel like your work matters.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And that you’re part of the moment. So, going back to trans culture, or nonbinary…
CASEY CADWALLADER — Just the idea that gender can be an amazing combination of factors. I even think about myself… Okay, I’m a man, but I’m a gay man. When I was young, I was made fun of for being feminine. People would call me a fag because I would occasionally skip like a girl or dance like a girl, or say something and giggle like a girl.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Or cry like a girl.
CASEY CADWALLADER — All those things. I was shamed for being feminine. So, now I’m so happy that I have a range. Sometimes, I can be a total queen, and sometimes, I can be really masculine, or I can switch from one to the other in five minutes because that’s okay now. I’m really happy that I didn’t push away the feminine part of me when I was younger.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And as a designer, how do you approach sexuality today? Because in the ’80s, when Thierry Mugler started out, sexuality was liberation. What’s the new sexuality?
CASEY CADWALLADER — Sexuality is now much more on the wearer’s terms. Women are no longer trying to dress sexy for men — they want to dress sexy for themselves. Nonbinary people want to dress sexy for themselves. A boy or a man wants to dress in women’s clothes to look sexy for himself. For me, anything goes. If I can make clothing that makes you excited about yourself, I’m into it. Sometimes, putting on a tailored jacket makes you feel sexy, but then, you don’t put a shirt on underneath or whatever. Sometimes, you want a sheer thing. Sometimes, jeans and a t-shirt are the sexiest thing. I’m trying to make there be new possibilities.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Mugler is in the middle of an exciting revolution, it seems. Is Paris the right place for this? Or is it too conservative?
CASEY CADWALLADER — There’s an amazing underground scene here that reminds me of when New York was fun. There’s a very fancy Paris that’s a bit institutional. And then, there’s really fun things happening in Paris in the bars, clubs, and restaurants. It is important to be here because Mugler is from Paris, and the craft of the atelier and all of these things are what make Mugler. But what’s happening in the Mugler community is happening in New York, LA, Berlin, Shanghai, and that’s the most inspiring thing. I would love to travel around now to understand the world in detail again, but for the moment we’re here.

OLIVIER ZAHM — On a Parisian island.




[Table of contents]

The Island Issue #35 S/S 2021

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