PARIS — Casey Cadwallader is back on the fashion roller coaster.
The creative director of Mugler is preparing to show his first collection since the label revealed it was easing up on the see now, buy now strategy it adopted during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Paris-based fashion house is set to unveil its spring 2024 collection at the Carrousel du Louvre on Oct. 2, as part of a broader effort to scale up the business, which has been logging double- and triple-digit growth rates the past three years and now counts around 150 retail partners.
“The brand is growing and the stability that will be created by being on plan with the rest of the world will only help us to sell more,” Cadwallader told WWD in an interview at Mugler’s new headquarters in Paris.
“I enjoy that, at Mugler, you can pivot. There are some brands that have to be extremely consistent, and Mugler is one that can benefit from being surprising and bold,” he added.
As reported, the house plans to develop and sell four collections a year, including two new pre-collections, while reserving the see now, buy now tactic for select product drops and collaborations.
Cadwallader said there were pros and cons to finalizing a collection six months before presenting it to the world. “If anything was wrong, I had six months to fix it,” he said. “On the negative side, in six months, my ideas change a lot, and usually toward more clarity.”
He also found it challenging to design runway looks and pre-collections at the same time. “I can very easily get into the mindset of either, but it’s kind of hard to be in the mindset of both at the same time,” he said.
The new calendar should provide more clarity for buyers. “We were sort of confusing them,” Cadwallader said. “If you want to build a business, then you have to be respectful of your retailers and their needs.”
It will also facilitate media exposure, by giving long-lead publications access to the collection before it goes on sale. “There was a definite press impact to the see now, buy now,” he said.
Cadwallader is excited to return to the regular calendar after showing his last see now, buy now collection at the tail end of Paris Couture Week in January. “Creatively, that puts me back on the train that I’m very familiar with,” he said.
“It also breeds competition in a very different way and competition is often a very energizing feeling,” Cadwallader noted. “You’re up against people who are much larger, who have more power and you have to try to rise to the highest level that you can with what you’ve got.”
For the designer, the challenge is for live shows to maintain the same excitement as his fashion films, a “wonderful chapter” that allowed him to conjure visions such as Bella Hadid’s avatar, in the form of a gilded Pegasus, taking flight from the roof of the Paris Opera.
“We learned from the films and it made us more daring and when we went back to the runway in January I didn’t want to lose that flavor and the dynamic of the people that I collaborate with, when we’re all together having fun,” he said.
The January show took the form of an experimental fashion spectacle akin to filming a music video live, with multiangle camera rigs that rolled alongside models as they vamped it up to the extreme: flipping and swinging their top-knotted hair, gyrating on a stripper pole and dancing on stage.
Since then he’s been thinking about how to express fierceness in a more “poetic” way.
“It is a little bit more serene and then it’s also not. It’s always about the nuanced layers of things but it is very, very different, that is for sure,” Cadwallader teased of his upcoming spring show, noting that he likes to switch gears.
“If something I did was really loud, then the next thing I want to do is more serene. And then if it’s too serene, how do you mess it up? It’s always about finding that balance and I think Mugler is the kind of brand that is all about taking risks,” he explained.
Coming on the heels of his collaboration with Swedish high-street giant H&M, the collection will also mark a stylistic turn.
“I used a lot of my greatest hits, but knowing that I wanted to pivot a bit after,” he said, noting that the H&M line included brand bestsellers like his signature spiral-cut jeans and mesh-panelled bodysuits.
“I’m not going to leave it behind, but I was ready to evolve certain things because they had been maybe popular for three years in the case of certain styles,” he said. “I have different things that I feel like proving this season.”
The experience has acted as a booster for Mugler’s future expansion.
“I learned that there is a very high energy for the brand that’s on par with some other brands that are much, much larger than us. We sold out extremely quickly, on par with Versace,” Cadwallader said. “I also learned that 50 percent of my clients are men, which I didn’t know before.”
As a result, the designer is now forging ahead with the development of menswear, which he plans to show alongside his women’s designs in the near future.
“I really don’t like gender as being just the two edges, and I think it’s much easier to show this kind of beautiful dégradé of identity in one show,” he said. “That’s also a better way to start it, too, because men’s market is during women’s pre-collection. It’s easy to keep it synced with your women’s for a while.”
The H&M launch coincided with another career high for Cadwallader: designing an outfit for Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour. Inspired by a bee, the look featured a cutout black-and-yellow bodysuit and a headpiece with antennas.
“I went to Stockholm for opening night of the tour, went to the concert. She wore the bee for the first time. And then in the morning, I unlocked the H&M store to let the crowds in. That was a weird 24 hours. I got back on the plane to Paris and I was like, ‘What just happened?’” he recalled with a laugh.
While he has always referenced Mugler’s archive, the custom look reflects his growing confidence in playing with the codes of the house founded by Manfred Thierry Mugler, who passed away in 2022.
“I haven’t really designed based on insects or animals so directly, but Mr. Mugler did all the time, so that was like an interesting moment to both refer to the heritage and make sure it was stamped with my aesthetic at the same time,” Cadwallader said. “The pressure used to be to impress him and now the pressure is to respect his legacy.”