from freedom to funky
George Michael, supermodels, and Mugler, and how they made such perfectly deranged bedfellows.
The fashion model/ pop star merger has a long history that dates all the way back to 1963, when a 19-year old Mick Jagger first took up with teen mannequin Chrissie Shrimpton. Since then, the list of similar pairings goes on and on: Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley; Axl Rose and Stephanie Seymour; Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porizkova; Simon and Yasmin LeBon. But it wasn’t until 1990 that the coupling cliché turned into artistic statement, when George Michael cast the original supermodel crew in his landmark ‘Freedom! 90’ music video. After feeling disenchanted with the recording industry — and desperate to shed the tight jeans/ biker jacket-clad persona from ’87’s ‘Faith’ — Michael refused to appear in front of the camera. To fill the void, he lifted a quintet of the fashion world’s top girls right from the cover of the January 1990 issue of British Vogue. With David Fincher directing, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christie Turlington, and Tatiana Patitz (as well a cadre of handsome menfolk) were filmed lip-syncing the pop star’s autobiographical lyrics while writhing around in nothing more than oversized sweaters and bed sheets.
Although ‘Freedom! 90’ wasn’t the first video to feature models — Porizkova, Turlington, and Brinkley had all appeared in videos during the 80s — it was revolutionary in that the models were as important as the musicians. Timing was key too; ‘Freedom’ was released just as The Supers began dominating pop culture. (Some would argue that without George Michael, the supermodel era might never have exploded like it did.) On MTV, models were the new video stars, appearing alongside everyone from Michael and Janet Jackson to Chris Isaak and Tina Turner, while fashion photographer Herb Ritts almost always cast mannequins in the videos he directed. So when Michael began setting up shop for ‘Too Funky’ in 1992, he took the glossy fashion theme up a few notches, staging a runway extravaganza and enlisting enfant terrible designer Thierry Mugler to direct.
‘Too Funky’ features a younger, lesser known model class that included Tyra Banks, Nadja Auermann, Emma Sjöberg, Estelle Hallyday, and in a return engagement, Linda Evangelista. Also strutting down the runway: a very taut nearly-60, Julie Newmar wearing a latex unitard befitting her Catwoman days of the 1960s. (Newmar had long been a Mugler muse of sorts, modeling in several of the designer’s shows in the early-90s.) The women were completely decked out in Mugler’s trademark sculpted couture, which the LA Times sneeringly dubbed, ‘a series of heavy metal outfits that seem part Harley chic and part ’63 Chevy Impala.’ Filming of ‘Too Funky’ took place in a Parisian film studio and lasted three non-stop days, and going way way over budget. George Michael himself took matters into his own hands on Day 2 when he stepped up and cut down the initial cast of 100+ models, drag queens (including Lypsinka) and other assorted scenesters until the final group was considerably smaller.
Michael and Mugler ultimately had a falling out mid-shoot which led to the designer being uncredited, which explains the cryptic ‘Directed by ?’ notice at the end of the video. However, a ‘Director’s Cut’ surfaced several years ago showing the much more grandiose vision that Mugler had dreamed up. Those who were cut from Michael’s version but appear in the Director’s Cut include models Beverly Peele, Djimon Hounsou (fresh from Janet’s ‘Love Will Never Do Without You’) and future ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ dreamboat, Justin Chambers. It’s much racier than the original cut, with its homo-erotic imagery and hints of S&M. However, whether Mugler’s version was sanitized for commercial purposes or ego reasons remains unclear; this was the age of Madonna’s Erotica, after all, so you’d think nothing would phase the television censors.
Nevertheless, two decades later, ‘Too Funky’ remains an important piece of fashion history, even if it never achieved the mainstream success of ‘Freedom! 90’. The reclusive Thierry Mugler, whose clothing line was shuttered in 2003, became in-demand as several of his ‘Too Funky’ costumes went on to attain ‘icon’ status. Beyonce re-wore Emma Sjöberg’s motorcycle bustier during her brief stint as Sasha Fierce and hired Mugler to design the costumes for her 2009 tour. Lady Gaga also borrowed from Emma’s wardrobe, wearing the futuristic robot number in her ‘Paparazzi’ video. In 2011, Gaga’s stylist, Nicola Formichetti was hired as Creative Director for the relaunched House of Mugler, and was then let go two years later. But with Bey and Gags, you can never be sure if the homages to ‘Too Funky’ are intentional or whether they just hopped onto the 90s fashion trendwagon without fully appreciating the legacy of their costumes. Either way, we prefer our Mugler with a heaping dose of George Michael, thankyouverymuch.