Just when so much in the culture is stuck in what can seem like a grimly benighted loop comes a ray of alt-cult sunshine to brighten our tiny screens. What unexpected form does it take? A music video.
Nowadays the announcement of a new high fashion-high street collaboration is roughly as exciting as a Steve Madden flash sale on Amazon. Yet the stakes were raised anew when the giant Swedish retailer H&M announced early this year that it had teamed up with the house of Mugler for a capsule collection designed by the label’s creative director Casey Cadwallader.
It’s Mr. Cadwallader who boosted the storied Mugler label when he came onboard in 2017, quickly infusing a fusty heritage brand with energy by introducing spiral-cut illusion effect bodysuits that soon became a default pop star uniform. Think Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé on the cover of British Vogue. What the world’s second-largest fashion retailer sought in the Mugler collaboration was the opportunity to recharge flagging sales and restore the high-fashion cred imparted by prior collaborations with, among others, Versace, Comme des Garçons, Stella McCartney and Balmain.
“We have a big design team, and when we asked people what they would like to see next, everyone kept saying Mugler,” Ann-Sofie Johansson, the creative adviser to H&M since 2015, said by phone. “Manfred was the first to dig into subcultures, different personas, different age groups and sizes on his runways.”
Ms. Johansson was referring, of course, to Manfred Thierry Mugler, the founder of the house, who died last year at 76. Undeniably, Mr. Mugler’s legacy rests not just on his hypersexualized designs but equally on his head-on confrontations with racism, ageism and body-shaming, positions he made clear throughout his career in highly theatrical shows cast with drag performers, trans women, porn stars, muscle men and models from across the age spectrum.
It was in that spirit that Mr. Cadwallader approached the making of the deliriously upbeat music video that accompanies the rollout of a stark and sexy Mugler H&M collaboration, which drops in early May. “Of course, I have to create desire and an energy people want to became a part of,” Mr. Cadwallader said by phone from Paris. “But I’ve always had a democratic sense to what fashion means.”
No believer in “fashion being for the exclusive few,” Mr. Cadwallader conceptualized a graphic production set to the propulsive soundtrack of that endlessly sampled 1980s dance tune, “Music Sounds Better With You” — sung by a girl group made up of the musicians Shygirl, Eartheater and Amaarae and in the background a welter of top models like Imaan Hammam, Selena Forrest and Anna Ewers, performers like the Venezuelan trans musician and producer Arca and a posse of variously gendered others stomping across miles of white seamless paper or — metaphor, anyone? — blowing through walls.
Oh, and there is a talk-show segment, hosted by the trans artist and gender pioneer Connie Fleming, a.k.a. Connie Girl, and Jerry Hall.
“Instead of trying to get the fashion ‘It’ girls or whoever is trending, I always wanted to get people Mr. Mugler might have worked with,” Mr. Cadwallader said. That includes “curvy” women like Mr. Cadwallader’s mother and sister, physical types historically invisible to high fashion. There are also those like Ms. Hall who, at 66, has reached an age at which most runway models are cast out on the ice.
“I don’t think models have a shelf life,” Mr. Cadwallader said.
Far from seeming like a cynical market foray, the inclusivity on display in the video is unabashedly celebratory, a seemingly organic reflection of gender realities some would see legislated out of existence. “We as a company are for the fashion-interested person — women mainly, but really everyone,” Ms. Johansson said. And the Mugler collection of men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, as shown in the video, bears out that assertion.
“Inclusivity was always in the DNA of Thierry Mugler,” said Ms. Fleming, a downtown New York legend who first walked the designer’s runways in the ’90s. “His vision was all sizes, all ages, all colors, all expressions. Back then it was considered subversive and theatrical and outlandish. What Casey is doing is using that initial vision to reflect the world back to itself.”