Pat Cleveland Remembers Being the Madonna in Thierry Mugler’s History-Making 1984 Show

Pat Cleveland, as told to Laird Borrelli-Persson
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The theme of the Met Gala is not just a guide for celebrities on what to wear, it’s an exhibition thation will live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the summer.

Fashion’s showman Thierry Mugler decided to go all-out for his 10th anniversary collection/bash, and in March 1984 staged the first commercial fashion show. Presented to a crowd of thousands, the audience was made up mostly of press and paying guests, his collection took place at the Zenith Paris stadium. The runway was designed to extend into the seating area and “embrace” the audience. On the catwalk, models participated in themed vignettes on Olympian, Space-Age, and religious themes. The finale, which journalist Marion Hume described as “a brave, deranged declaration that fashion designers, and even ordinary mortals, need not be confined by the gravity of planet Earth,” featured the descent from the ceiling of model Pat Cleveland as the Madonna. Her look will be shown in “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” on a specially handcrafted mannequin. Here, Cleveland describes this celestial experience for Vogue.

Well, I was six months pregnant when I came down out of the sky, with Noel, who is now 33.

Thierry Mugler, [who] has a really good sense of humor, chose me out of all his models. I thought, “No, I can’t do it.” He said, “You’re going to do it.” I said okay and they hooked me up to this contraption in the ceiling, and I said Thierry, “I don’t think I can do this. He said, “You can do it!” You know, he's very convincing, and anything he [does] you know is going to be spectacular—I mean he’s had me hanging from buildings and everything, so what was one more risk for fashion?

[What] hypnotic powers that Thierry Mugler has, his vision is so intense and so outrageous and so worthwhile. I always felt [like I was making history] when I did [his] shows because he is one of the most fabulous creative showmen. So he put me up there in this harness for the rehearsal and I lived through it. It attached under your arms and under your bottom, like a parachute, if you've ever seen Peter Pan it’s the same thing. So I had my Peter Pan moment even though I was representing the Virgin Mary—who I am not.

So I got up in there and I had this amazing, transparent, luminescent gown that had so many layers of chiffon and these marvelous sleeves—angel wing sleeves, which I love. You can’t do dishes in them but you can certainly do a show in them. I’d wear those sleeves every day if I wasn’t just a mortal! You’ve got to have a body in those clothes and I guess I had the right body at that time because I was pregnant. The god of fashion had me in the sky coming out as the Miraculous [in a] dress with beautiful blue stones—he was always very good at using that Madonna blue, the ultramarine blue that you weren’t allowed to wear in the Renaissance or something, only the Madonna could wear it—I’m not talking about the singer, I’m talking about the real Madonna.

It was a magnificent [moment], because all the girls were on stage with angel wings, this was before Victoria’s Secret happened, of course. It was [like] one of those Folies Bergère numbers—you know Thierry now has the Mugler Follies—and I was the girl chosen to come down out of the sky with my son in my belly, and all the girls were very sympathetic toward me; they were so scared for me [and] astonished that I would do something like that. They were like sisters in that moment, there was no envy, they were turned into actual angels.

All I had to do was just touch ground, gracefully—that was the hard part—and then open my arms and walk through the smoke. The harness came apart, it was like taking the clothes off a hanger with clips; two angels came behind me, two boy angels, I think, I don't quite remember, but they were in the smoke, kind of like a magic trick or something. Now the smoke wasn’t dangerous to my son, but you know, I guess he picked something up from it, now Noel is designing clothes. He started his own brand, VRC, this year. It’s sort of in his DNA, I think.

Mugler’s concept was musical; you hear that song [reportedly “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Ave Maria” were on the soundtrack] and you know the concept is beyond divine. Something must have just hit him like lightening—or God was talking to him. [But] I think it was just a figment of Mr. Mugler’s imagination; [the idea] that if you died and went to heaven there would be clouds and beautiful angels—goddess-angels. The makeup was fantastic, oh it was so beautiful—and the hair! You can’t be any more beautiful than an angel, and I felt really beautiful.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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