Casey Cadwallader on designing in Paris and shooting in Paramount
Few designers have ever had a greater late-in-life comeback than Thierry Mugler; and few successors have rarely seemed so in synch as Casey Cadwallader, who on Wednesday unveiled his latest collection video for the Paris house.
“It’s the third leg of my trilogy with myself and Torso Solutions,” explained Cadwallader, referring to the directing team, in a private preview of the kicky video for spring-summer 2022 shot inside Paramount Studios in Los Angeles.
“We were kinda having more fun than usual and went quite wild on set. And sometimes the girls would say, ‘Oh Jesus! What are you going to make me do now?” chuckles Casey, who took over the helm at Mugler in December 2017.
Like his two previous videos, the latest features many of his eclectic crew – ranging from modern stars like Bella Hadid and Megan Thee Stallion – seen in a virtual billboard - to veterans like Amber Valletta, NaTasha Vojnović and Shalom Harlow to proper movie stars or celebrity offspring like Chloë Sevigny or Lourdes Leon.
All performing and lip-licking throughout the video, sprawling and snogging over stretch limousines, draped across camera dollies or tumbling over sidewalks inside the studio set. Itself a blend of small-town America, NYC subway entrances and gangster movie scenes. And all the better to show Casey’s dynamic, uber revealing, body-con vision of Mugler, with acres of bum and tummy on display. Managing to reference the power-heroine silhouette of founder Thierry Mugler, even as he subverts it with bravura cut-outs and cunningly placed straps and belts. The house’s anatomical DNA flourishing in brilliant bio-morphic corsets that morph into Aqua-woman slashed jeans, as seen on Adut Akech.
Californian Valkyries ruling in stretch faux denim, skimpy chiffon or taut leather, before the lithe designer brings the action to a halt by sliding across the hood of a Lincoln town-car.
“People know what to expect from me now. I wanted to break out and shoot in Paramount studios, looking like New York but being in LA. That’s the weird surrealism that we like to have… It’s my sleazy American salesman side,” laughed Cadwallader.
“I think we all have gone off on tangents during the pandemic. My feeling is a video can be a fashion show for 10 million people. So, if I go back to just another runway show, I am closing a door. Like in in our video, Bella is staring right into your eyes. And I don't want to give that up,” he stresses.
The video comes nine months after the opening of the Louvre’s hugely acclaimed retrospective Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, paying homage to the unique multidisciplinary artist whose ideas influenced fashion, photography, video music culture, perfumery and gay rights.
“The thing about Manfred (Mugler’s first name) that was so precious was that he broke the rules and did what was right for himself in those times,” insisted Casey.
“He broke up the system back in 1987 or even 1977, when people didn’t see fashion shows. Editors saw them and then the clothes appeared in a magazine six months later. Now, doing a live show you cannot pretend that a phone isn’t turning it into a sort of broadcast. So, the question is how you revitalize the show and performance and for a designer that is a very daunting thing. Shows are both high budget and high risk!” he shrugged.
Cadwallader first saw Thierry Mugler: Couturissime in Montreal, which felt like “getting slapped in the face by a giant hand…. The highlights were his great couture pieces. They were dazzling. I had seen a lot of them in the office. But I ended up taking so many detailed pictures up close, it was crazy.
“Losing Manfred just when I was getting to know him as we only really met in his final year was very sad. That this amazing spirit was lost. I was always thinking about him and hoping he would like what I did. So, I did have a chance to show him that I got it,” he recalls.
Asked to define the Mugler DNA, he responds: “There are so many different layers. The clothing as construction alone sets it apart. The structure and sculpture – and sense of anatomy and body enhancement. Plus, the sense of dazzling spectacle and the idea of representing the strongest and freshest version of yourself. Or, the idea of there being a range within beauty and of sexual expression – men can be feminine and women masculine and anything in between!”
Mugler began his own artistic journey as a professional dancer, to which the video makes reverent homage. A final passage has prima ballerina Maria Kochetkova and vogueing superstar Barbie Swaee spin and swerve, in an archive couture sequin halterneck dress suspended from a sculpted Perspex collar.
Like Mugler, who came from Strasbourg, France, Casey didn’t grow up in a big city. Cadwallader grew up in the Granite State of New Hampshire, going on to study architecture in the famed college town of Cornell, before a summer internship with Marc Jacobs led him to fashion.
“I thought that fashion would just be more dynamic for me. I thought architecture would come back one day. So yeah, I took the dive, and my grandfather was not very happy. He said to me, ‘You just graduated from the hardest architect school in the United States and now you’re going to go work in fashion?!’ and I was like ‘yes!’.
“So, when I finished Cornell, I moved straight to Brooklyn, and I started working straight away in fashion. Then I moved to Madrid for Loewe. Then I went to London and then back to New York for a second time at Narciso (Rodriguez) and I was there for five years. Then I came back to Paris for Acne Studios and was back and forth between Stockholm and Paris for three years. And now I’ve been here for four years. Four years already -- wow!” reflects the 42-year-old designer.
“When I heard that Mugler was looking for a new designer, I thought, 'I need to get to Mugler'. I am not Manfred, and I never will be. I love a lot of the codes, but I will do it my way. What I love is to explore the cut and line of a curvy hip and butt. The sense of the erogenous zones with a sense of humor. Parisian and refined but naughty and kinky,” he laughs.
Powered on by Casey’s revival, Mugler has become a favorite of Kim Kardashian West, Cardi B, Dua Lipa, Doja Cat and Miley Cyrus, whether wearing his own creations or archive pieces.
Did he remember the first time he saw or heard of Thierry Mugler?
“Either watching Fashion TV which I used to watch a lot when I was like ten. When his shows came on, I was like, ‘wow! This is so different from the others!’ Or maybe it was the Too Funky video [by George Michael]. Everyone in my house loved George Michael and I just remember that also being so insane and so decadent. At the time I didn’t actually know that Manfred had been the person who had directed it because he made it look like George Michael directed it,” he chortles.
Whatever happens next, Casey is determined to break new ground each season.
“Manfred was always pushing forward. What’s the newest material out there? What’s the newest process? So, for me, it’s continuing the same sort of iconic Mugler constructions in general but finding new technology and fabrications to make the clothing new. As he would be doing. He would be looking for the next thing. I think the secret of Mugler is half refined, and half stripper,” he laughs loudly.
“We always make a joke in the design team because we look at haute couture… and strippers. It’s always really weird, slutty things we find on the internet, but we go, ‘Ah! We could make that more chic! But you have to be able to dive into that. You know he put gay porn stars on the runway. So, everything is okay here, everything is possible.”
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