Iconic Collection honors a trio of icons who transformed fashion through their visionary style and unforgettable personalities.
In just a few short months between November 2021 and January 2022, the fashion industry was rocked by the loss of three influential figures: Louis Vuitton menswear artistic director Virgil Abloh, legendary fashion editor André Leon Talley, and iconic designer Thierry Mugler. Here we explore their legacies.
“I’m always trying to prove to my 17-year-old self that I can do creative things I thought weren’t possible,” Virgil Abloh said in a 2017 interview with W Magazine. Little did he know that in less than a year, he would be the artistic director of menswear for one of the world’s most celebrated labels.
Abloh was 37 years old when he was named the creative head of menswear for Louis Vuitton, an ascension that was notable because he was the first Black man to hold the title. But the exceptional talent he already exhibited working for Kanye West—both individually as the rapper’s creative director and in a collaborative internship at Fendi—and in his highly sought-after Off-White label made the high-wattage appointment seem almost inevitable.
Abloh’s quote is even more poignant when you consider how brief his tenure was at Louis Vuitton, and the visionary designs he created within that time frame. In November 2021, Abloh died after a two-year battle with a rare form of cancer, only three years and eight months after he assumed the helm of the French house’s menswear collections. “I’m not really into style,” he told Billboard magazine in 2016. “I’m more into confidence or having something to say.”
It’s undeniable, though, that with his Off-White and Louis Vuitton collections, Abloh was creating looks that weren’t just artful and forward-thinking, but also highly stylish. His adept hand in creating fashion that felt both wholly modern and audacious made Abloh highly popular with celebrities and athletes alike, an impressive list that included everyone from Rihanna and Pharrell Williams to LeBron James, Timothée Chalamet, Kaia Gerber, Beyoncé, Hailey and Justin Bieber, and Lenny Kravitz.
At a showing of his final spring menswear collection during Art Basel Miami Beach in December, Louis Vuitton chairman and CEO Michael Burke summed up the designer’s impact on both fashion and the cultural landscape. “He used the platform he had to break boundaries and to open doors, to shed light on his creative passions—art, design, music and, of course, fashion—so that everybody could see inside, not only to dream of being part of that world, but to also find ways to make that dream a reality,” Burke said. “Virgil showed them the way.”
“Wearing clothes should be a personal narrative of emotion,” André Leon Talley said in 2012 while he was preparing a fashion exhibition at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he served on the board of trustees. “I always respond to fashion in an emotional way.”
You only had to watch the revered fashion editor in the front row of a runway show to understand that he was driven by emotion when he witnessed something beautiful. Some editors appear to view a new collection with a passivity that may resemble disinterest, but never Talley. He clapped, he gestured, he smiled and made clear that he could feel transported by exceptional design.
Following Talley’s passing in January 2022 from a heart attack complicated by COVID-19, designers, editors, and celebrities roundly agreed that his larger-than-life presence will be greatly missed. On Instagram, Michael Kors called Talley “a remarkable human being full of strength, style, smarts, and humor,” while Tracee Ellis Ross called him “grand and glamorous, complex and marvelous.”
Talley was once the wunderkind who kicked off his New York fashion career with an unpaid internship for Diana Vreeland after the legendary editor had departed Vogue and was serving as a consultant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon after, she introduced Talley to Andy Warhol, who offered him a job working for Interview magazine at his iconic Factory.
“Mrs. Vreeland and Andy made me feel important,” Talley said during an interview for his second memoir, ”The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir,” released in 2020. “People drank at the fountain of Vreeland. They drank in her words, her quotes, her very being. It gave me joy to watch her talk and be enthusiastic about a dress. I learned so much from her.”
Stints at Women’s Wear Daily, W, Ebony, and other publications ultimately led Talley to Vogue, where he first worked as fashion news director before becoming the magazine’s first Black male creative director, a position he held from 1988 to 1995. While there, he championed the use of more Black models in magazines and on fashion-show runways and in 2008, he styled Michelle Obama for her first Vogue cover and introduced the soon-to-be First Lady to designer Jason Wu, who would soon create several designs for her, including an inaugural gown.
At six-foot-six, Talley was hard to miss, and over the years his legendary style and dress often featured colorful custom capes and dramatic caftans.
By the time he released ”The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir,” it was clear Talley was content to consider his own history. “The title is a wonderful metaphor for my life, because fashion is indeed a battle in the trenches, traveling to fashion shows four times a year and living in Paris for nine years of my life,” he said during that book’s tour. “And it’s also about battles won and lost. But I liked the idea of ‘chiffon’ because it’s a fabric that floats along but is also very strong, though it must be treated with great delicacy. You can’t put a hot iron on chiffon; you must handle it with great care.”
“I want my models to be bigger, stronger, and taller than common mortals. I need superwomen and supermen,” French-born designer Thierry Mugler said at the height of his popularity in the 1980s. Viewing fashion as a sort of armor, Mugler’s exaggerated silhouettes and inverse triangular couture structures helped define ‘80s power dressing.
One of the first designers to use celebrities as models, singer Grace Jones was among his original muses, Diana Ross walked in his spring/summer 1991 show, and in 2009, Mugler designed 58 costumes for Beyonce’s I Am… world tour. “The first time I saw her, I said, ‘This girl has grace,’” Mugler said at the time. “She’s a real star, like they used to be. And she’s thoroughly honest about it, and she’s enjoying every minute of it.”
Cardi B likewise was a fan, garnering headlines when she wore Mugler’s vintage “Venus” gown to the 2019 Grammys. In an Instagram post following Mugler’s death in January 2022 at the age of 73, the rapper and songwriter noted that “he was one of the first designers to take a major chance on me … [he was] a true inspiration for all of us.”
Why were such powerful women drawn to Mugler’s work? Perhaps it was because his theatrical fashion presentations portrayed women as nothing less than warriors in his architectural designs.
Mugler took a rather circuitous route to fashion, training as a ballet dancer in his early years before discovering both the skills and a style aesthetic that resonated within him, all rooted in the masculine-meets-feminine tailoring that stars like Joan Crawford and Lana Turner popularized in the 1940s. “I started inventing all these cuts—the body-conscious cut, where all the seams would follow the body,” he said in 2009. “It was constraining. But it would make you look good.”
Even as Mugler found himself more inspired by beauty than fashion in his later years—his perfume Angel, introduced in 1992, remains one of today’s most popular fragrances—Hollywood and the music industry were only too eager to embrace his design talent. Demi Moore wore a black Mugler dress in 1993’s ”Indecent Proposal,” a look that became widely copied after the film’s release, while the year before, he collaborated with George Michael on the video for the singer’s “Too Funky” single.
The send-up of what goes on both behind the scenes and on the runway of a fashion show not only showcased some of Mugler’s most iconic designs—including the motorcycle bustier from his 1992 collection, which now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art— but the four-minute film also continues to rank high on the list of the 20th century’s most celebrated videos. In 2016, celebrity hairstylist Danilo called the resulting visuals “a fashion show on steroids, Moulin Rouge meets Vegas meets this level of chic sophistication … it was an amazing event. Those were the days. We were a family. We were the Muglers.”
When asked about his legacy, Mugler eschewed thoughts of dressing superstars or producing the most sought-after fashion shows of the 1980s and early ‘90s. Instead, he said simply, “I have always tried to sublimate the body and to make people dream.”
Christopher John Rogers:
Based in Brooklyn, Rogers founded his eponymous label in 2016, and in less than six years he has vaulted into the stratosphere of the world’s most high-wattage designers. His love of bold colors has attracted a fan base that includes Zendaya, Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, and Vice President Kamala Harris, who wore his purple coat and dress for the 2021 inauguration. In 2021, Rogers achieved the industry’s top prize when the Council of Fashion Designers of America named him American Womenswear Designer of the Year at its annual CFDA Awards.
The Brooklyn-based creative director of accessories collection Brother Vellies not only creates luxury pieces that celebrate a cultural heritage, she also has her eye on leveling the playing field in the industry. In 2020, James founded the Fifteen Percent Pledge, a non-profit organization that encourages retailers to devote 15 percent of their selling space to Black designers. The number equals the estimated population of Black Americans in the U.S.
The editor-in-chief of British Vogue paid tribute to Talley in an Instagram post following the icon’s death: “Without you, there would be no me,” he said. “Thank you for paving the way.” Born in Ghana, Enninful assumed the top job at Britain’s most powerful fashion magazine in 2017. Ever since, he’s won raves for his dedication to messages of female empowerment—often through the women on his covers—a stellar list that has included everyone from Oprah Winfrey and Rihanna to Stella Tennant and Adwoa Aboah.