This past Sunday, the fashion world lost one of it’s most innovative and original couturiers of the last century– Manfred Thierry Mugler. To honor his legacy, we dedicate our first official designer post to the Mugler dress that appears in the 1993 film Indecent Proposal. The garment transgresses character boundaries and becomes indicative of the plot, adding complex psychological layers to the character who wears it. Enter: the divine Demi Moore.
The happily married Diana Murphy (Demi Moore) gets more than she bargained for in this unromantic drama, based on a book of the same name, by Jack Engelhard. Spoiler alert! Diana gets screwed in more ways than one. She bites down hard on a velvety slice of forbidden fruit, gifted to her by a snake of biblical proportions. In this case, the snake is billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford), who slithers in from a twisted garden of Eden– a glittering casino pit at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. Lucky for us fashion freaks, the forbidden fruit is a $5,000 silk and velvet Thierry Mugler dress.
The film itself received a rocky reception. It was criticized as anti-feminist for positioning Demi Moore’s character as a sex object. Vile as it may be, this criticism isn’t a far cry from Mugler’s ideology as a designer. He and Azzedine Alaïa are credited, in large part, to the return of ultra form-fitting garments for women in the early eighties. One United Press International article from 1982, exclaimed: “The liberation of women from being sex objects went out the window in the 10 days of the 1983 Paris Spring/Summer and Ready-to-Wear shows…” At this the time, Thierry Mugler was exhibiting dazzling RTW collections. Perhaps “dazzling” is an understatement. In 1984, Mugler hosted a 10th-anniversary show for his line. The showstopper featured, as Andre Leon Talley described her, “the first black supermodel” Pat Cleaveland, descending from the ceiling as a Madonna figure. And to think this was a “Ready-to-Wear” show.
While the Madonna getup isn’t reflective of Mugler’s more constrictive designs, it is a bold display of his gumption as a designer. His visions for women’s fashion were larger than life. Alongside these wilder pieces, Mugler sent refined, impeccably sculptural garments down his runways. By 1992, he was invited by France’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode to show officially as haute couture. That same year, his sultry black velvet dress was scouted for the film Indecent Proposal.
Only one thing could add more steam to a ménage à trois between the wealthy playboy, played by Robert Redford, and Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, as a happily married couple. That one thing is the black velvet sculptural dress from Mugler’s Spring 1992 Ready-to-Wear collection.
The dress itself plays a psychological role in foreshadowing the trajectory of Diana Murphy. She lusts after the dress in a casino gift shop, holding the garment up in the mirror to fantasize about wearing it. She checks the price tag. John Gage appears, watching her admire the dress. He encourages her to purchase it, and when she declines, then offers to purchase it for her. Again, she declines. This is an ongoing theme in the film, her declining and then him advancing regardless. There is undoubtedly a conversation about consent to be had here, where no means no, mister John Gage.
Without spoiling the entire movie, you should just know that Diana Murphy is pushed past her initial boundaries and eventually accepts the dress as a gift. This shadowy, subtly revealing black velvet dress symbolizes the dark side of bending your morals for money. In a subsequent scene, she’s seen wearing the garment as more boundaries are tested and pushed. Later in the film, Diana is seen wearing all white.
But it’s that iconic black Thierry Mugler dress on Demi Moore that truly steals the show.