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Mugler AW23
Photography Cris Fragkou

Meet the Mugler collaborator behind its new Arca-approved It-bag

Casey Cadwallader joined forces with Copenhagen-based designer Matilda Venczel to conceptualise the body-mimicking Spiral Curve 01

After three years of digital shows necessitated by a little global event you may remember as the pandemic, Casey Cadwallader’s comeback Mugler show closed down Paris Couture with a bang back in January. The knockout extravaganza saw the likes of Dominique Jackson, Paloma Elsesser, Eva Herzigova, and Debra Shaw take over the runway, while Ziwe got front row fashion fan Lisa Rinna involved and Arca wrenched a bag out of the hands of an unassuming audience member. Needless to say, the whole thing was a moment that’s likely to go down in industry lore.

Though Cadwallader has been putting his own stamp on the house that Thierry built for a good few years now, turning out his now-signature cut-out bodysuits, boxy tailoring, and barely-there minidresses, until that moment, he’d yet to release his ‘It-bag’. What Arca yanked from the front row was the first Mugler bag to make its debut in decades: the Spiral Curve 01 – a collaborative effort dreamt up by Cadwallader and avant-garde accessories designer Matilda Venczel.

Now based in Copenhagen, Venzcel found her passion for bags through working in a Swedish tannery, only a few years after graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. “It’s funny. I don’t even think I owned a handbag before I started making them,” she admits over the phone from her studio. What she did love all the way through her life, however, was leather, spending time learning the art of leatherwork from craft-based creatives like Carol Christian Poell

“When I first made my own bags, I realised they looked totally different to many that were already out there,” she says. Among the classic, timeless leather styles many brands tend to offer, Venzcel’s are angular and futuristic. In a sea of sleek, minimalist designs, there’s something a bit off-key and weird about her ideas. With her first collection under her belt, she took her first enormous leap and headed for Paris, humbly hoping she’d be stocked in just one store by the end of fashion week. “By the time I left, I’d signed ten stores that first season,” she remembers. “But then the factory I was supposed to work with ditched me and I had to make all the bags myself.” Undeterred, she knuckled down and got the job done. 

One evening soon after, a conversation with her boyfriend turned in the direction of collaboration, as he asked her if she would ever be interested in designing bags for someone else. “I said no,” she remembers. “Apart from for Mugler – that could work.” In some bizarre planets-aligning-style moment, just a few months later Casey Cadwallader reached out, inviting her into the fold to create the first ‘it-bag’ for his house. Sharing a moodboard made up of sketches and paper sculptures, it soon became clear the match was a good one – both designers share a nerdy fascination with shape and form and unusual composition. 

Drawing inspiration from Mugler’s body-centric design language, the bag designer wanted to create a bag that blended out into its universe. The Spiral Curve 01 is sleek and ergonomic: “It’s inspired by the curvature of the body. The curved bottom sits on your arm and close to your thigh,” Venzcel explains. And though her own namesake brand employs innovative tech in the creation of its own pieces, working with Mugler allowed her to explore new techniques and work with future-facing manufacturers. “The bag’s curved bottom is made with a technique normally used for shoes,” she says.

With bags often thought of as accoutrements to an outfit, Mathilde loved how central the new style was to the show. “It was such a surprise [to see Arca grabbing it out of the crowd],” she says. “I’ve never seen a show where bags were featured like that.” Having commemorated her 10th collection in Copenhagen with an installation that saw lifelike human hands holding them out for viewing, the Mugler runway show got her thinking about how she might present her pieces in the future. For Venzcel, bags aren’t just an add-on – thanks to Cadwallader, she’s realised they can be the main event.