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When Thierry Mugler met Anna Bayle

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 27, 2021 5:00 am

“I will make you a star, but you will have to do what I say.” Those words from Thierry Mugler, one of the top fashion designers in the ’80s and ’90s, were music to Anna Bayle’s ears despite the caveat, since it had always been her dream as a model and pre-med student in Manila to make it to the Paris runways one day.

Catching up with her by phone from New York where she now resides, we asked her about this encounter, which is particularly relevant now because of the ongoing exhibit, “Couturissime,” at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, celebrating the work of the legendary French designer whom she has always credited for discovering her.

It happened the first time she stepped into his atelier in 1981 sans appointment but with the hunger and drive from living in New York, where she worked as a fit and salon model at Maximillian Furs. “I readily said yes to seal the pact, especially after so many unsuccessful ‘cattle calls’ with different Parisian agencies. Besides, Thierry’s show was the hottest ticket in town.”

She was so famous that on her return to New York, where they couldn’t appreciate her before, she was hired immediately by designers like Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein and Bill Blass, landing 27 bookings in less than 24 hours.

Unlike in New York, where all-American girls like Cheryl Tiegs were the standard for ramp and print, Paris had more diversity, although Asians were still rare. Mugler liked Anna’s look, which was exotic and non-specific. “He was looking for Amazons. I’m like the women of Gauguin, not the delicate, fragile type,” says Anna, who was perfect for his linebacker-shouldered, tiny-waisted power women.

Thierry Mugler is rediscovered by the Instagram generation with rapper Cardi B wearing his dress from the 1997 “Les Insectes” collection: Behind them on exhibit is one of his couture creations from FW 1995-1996, worn by her at the Grammy Awards 2019.

Mugler had such confidence in her that he booked her for his crucial press show, together with the A-listers Pat Cleveland, Jerry Hall and Iman. It was a huge hit both for the designer and the Filipina.

‘Thierry Mugler could seduce everyone from the make-up and hair people to us models. He had a knack of getting everyone around him to give their ‘body and soul’ to his collection,’ Anna Bayle wrote in her blog.

He even chose her as a fit model for the cabine, where the clothes originate. Being privy to the creative process refined her modelling skills: “I was familiar with the pieces intimately and knew how to show them to best advantage.”

And what pieces they were. Aside from his hyper-sexualized glamazons, Mugler had fantastical hybrids — insects and beasts and transhuman robots, all made with painstaking craft detail.

Thierry Mugler as a centaur in a photo taken by Jean-Paul Goude for Vogue Paris in 1998.

“He was so creative in a multidisciplinary way. He came from the world of theater, after all — a dancer with the ballet corps of the Opera National du Rhin from age 14. He always had a whole concept in mind and knew what he wanted for the story, which I could understand and give him. He was such a perfectionist, even with details like the right shade of lipstick, the shape and volume of the mouth, the direction and energy of the eyeliner that would determine the slant of the eye from a theatrical or stage perspective.”

Anna, of course, had her own ideas. During a show at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, she wandered to the aquarium, where she was inspired by the undulating gills of the fish, which looked like the chiffon sleeves of her dress. She visualized this image while modeling, delivering a show-stopping performance that would help make her one of Mugler’s favorites.

He actually made her his muse, dressing her up for parties, making her even more popular — landing jobs in magazines shot by photographers like Helmut Newton.

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Mugler actually shot many of his campaigns, the first among the designers —even before Lagerfeld. When he did his first book of photographs, Anna was one of the top choices to go on location. She remembers one of her most memorable shoots in Greenland on top of icebergs wearing heels: “It was like balancing on an ice cube and if you fell, in 45 seconds you’re dead!”

But everyone cooperated because “his energy and genius hits one like lightning,” Anna wrote in a blog. “Everyone was in love with him in a ‘creative collaboration’ sense. He could seduce everyone from the make-up and hair people to us models. He had a knack of getting everyone around him to give their ‘body and soul’ to his collection.”

He had this gift for seeing the potential in those he met. “He also liked to help people,” no doubt a quality that attracted loyal staff and collaborators. In Anna’s case, he made good on his word and indeed made her a star, earning her the title “Model of the ’80s,”one of the top 10 in 1984, gracing countless magazine covers and landing jobs with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Lacroix and Chanel.

Featured in the “Couturissime” exhibit at Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris: Anna Bayle photographed by Thierry Mugler on location in Greenland in 1987. Mugler called her “a brave lady” in a Vogue interview for this dangerous shoot balancing on an iceberg.

She was so famous that on her return to New York, where they couldn’t appreciate her before, she was hired immediately by designers like Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein and Bill Blass, landing 27 bookings in less than 24 hours.

Known as “Asia’s First Supermodel,” she did nine shows a day in all the fashion capitals of the world when many were just doing one. A recent Harpersbazaar.com article listed her third in “The 20 Top Supermodels that Dominated Fashion in the ’80s,” one of the icons who “paved the way for the It girls of the ’90s.”

Although she was still modeling when most of her peers had retired, she decided to quit in 1994 when she was at the top of her game, devoting her time to raising her son Callum and pursuing creative and business endeavors: writing a book, developing a lipstick line, a model-mentoring agency and real estate investment.

Mugler, on the other hand, left the fashion world in 2002, declaring that “fashion was not the right tool anymore,” moving on to create in other fields, from theater to music and entertainment.

Just as Anna remained an inspiration for succeeding models to this day, Mugler is also an icon for many designers like Ricardo Tisci of Burberry. “For me he is one of the industry’s only real geniuses,” Tisci said at the opening of Mugler’s ongoing Paris exhibit. “He completely changed the fashion business. Thirty years later, he is still one of the best.”