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In conversation: Casey Cadwallader and Mugler muse Eartheater

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FashionQ+A

It’s a few days before the second part of Mugler’s SS21 show lands, and designer Casey Cadwallader and Alex Drewchin – who you may know better as Eartheater – are discussing the moment they met. “Our first conversation was definitely about boobs,” laughs Drewchin. “Yeah, I mean come on – that’s a big thing we have in common,” Cadwallader responds, jokingly. “I like them, and you’ve got them.” 

It’s not just boobs he’s obsessed with, though. Having taken the helm of the legendary house in late 2017, Cadwallader has proved his appreciation of the female form, in its many guises, runs deep. Across the course of the last few years, the designer has obliterated archaic ideals surrounding what a supermodel should look like and brought a whole new vision of diversity to the runway – picking up where Thierry himself left off in the early 90s and carrying the torch into a new era.

“I love how much we go in on my body,” explains Drewchin of the intimate design process she and the designer share. “It makes me feel amazing that someone is willing to really understand the complexity of this unique body – you know, one that’s not coathanger-y or skinny.” With three Mugler shows now under her belt, the subversive musician has cemented her unquestionable position as a house muse. “The cool thing is, with each passing season, this relationship between my body and Casey has developed – he’s getting to know me more and more,” she adds.

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Alongside Drewchin, the likes of Hunter Schafer, Bella Hadid, Kembra Pfahler, Alek Wek, Patia Borja, and Pose icon Dominique Jackson also star in this season’s extravaganza. Sashaying disjointedly through an all-black set, the short film (what else?) flip-reverses the traditional catwalk up-and-down as the models launch themselves into the air to a pounding drum and bass soundtrack. It’s as if Cadwallader has turned out a troupe of Mugler-dripping supersheroes, which, tbh, is exactly the kind of Marvel movie we’d actually pay money to see. 

Now, as the closing SS21 Mugler presentation gets its debut, we sat down with Casey Cadwallader and Alex Drewchin as they discuss first impressions, early fashion memories, creating in quarantine, and their close friendship. Watch the film below and check out the collection in the gallery above. 

So tell me about the first time you met, how did it happen? 

Casey Cadwallader: I became aware of Alex through (Mugler stylist) Haley Wollens, who knew Alex already in New York. I think I missed the chance to meet Alex naturally because I moved to Paris like five years ago. I feel like our orbits would’ve crossed in New York but I wasn’t there so thankfully Haley made me aware of Alex. What about you Alex?

Eartheater: Yeah, Haley brought us together. I remember walking into the fitting and there you were so relaxed and just smiling and gracious. I was so nervous – you’d scheduled me after Kembra Pfahler and before Bella Hadid – but you put me at ease immediately. 

Casey Cadwallader: Trust me, I was just as overwhelmed in that moment too. (laughs)

Can you talk me through the SS21 film – where did the idea come from? Why is everyone flying through the air? 

Casey Cadwallader: I mean, why not? The film we did almost six months ago (part one of SS21) was about being outside and being free, being able to see friends, which we don’t really have the chance to do in Paris right now. That collection was the sporty part, whereas this second one is much more chic and tailored – but I made a promise to myself I wouldn’t make any boring fashion videos. It started with this idea of something a bit sinister, a bit David Lynchian, all contained in this very stark black box – so you’d get to see this amazing cast and the clothes, but you’d get a little more freedom on the runway. You get to see the models be brave, and smile, and laugh, and you get to see them as individuals. 

Eartheater: Which is great for me – I’m not good at that modelly, fashion thing. I’m so bad at it, I can’t! (laughs) 

Casey Cadwallader: Oh stop, I disagree first of all. But yeah, it was more fun than usual. We actually filmed it thinking it was all going in one direction, then realised actually it was cooler if it went backwards. The opening look is now the finale look and the finale is now the opener. Trust me, it was confusing to do, but we wanted to mess around, we wanted to break the box, and we wanted to do something exciting while we have this break from the runway. I don’t think things will be the same when we go back. 

In what way? Are you thinking you might not go back to runway shows, or are you looking forward to live shows being an option? 

Casey Cadwallader: I love the idea of going back to being live but it does sort of limit what you can do. I think it also makes you more aware of this pressure that comes from the fashion press arriving after seeing ten other shows. They have 15 minutes for you, you do your thing and they get out. It can be an amazing, seductive experience that’s powerful and emotional, but it’s also kind of charged in that you only have ten minutes to blow people away – especially if you don’t have a multi-million dollar budget and everything that comes with it. If you keep it straightforward, it’s hard to give. You don’t see the cast talk, or smile – you don’t see much personality. I’m quite obsessed with my cast being actual human beings with thoughts, words, and expressions, instead of just figures in clothes that walk in space. It’s going to be hard going back. I think maybe it’s going to have to be some hybrid situation. 

Eartheater: You also don’t get that feeling you have before walking. This last shoot was so relaxed. It was still obviously a massive production and things needed to be on time, but yeah, it was very calm in comparison to a runway show.

Casey Cadwallader: There’s nothing like the feeling of the morning of the show. It’s like I’m fucking levitating, like I have no idea what is going on. I go into this really weird calm state because I’m like okay, don’t freak out. Shooting a film, you know you can do it a few times if you need to. It was fun because we actually got to chill out with each other, instead of rushing through hair and make-up, doing the thing, and leaving. 

“The fact fashion has been championing just one kind of beauty for so long is kind of absurd. There’s so much out there to celebrate and you just keep celebrating people who are six feet tall and skinny a hundred years. I mean, give me a break” – Casey Cadwallader

Okay, so to go back a bit further – could you both talk me through your first experience of fashion? For example, the moment you became aware of the power of clothing…

Casey Cadwallader: For me, I was a little gay boy growing up in New Hampshire where not much was salacious and seductive and for me, I don’t know, I was your very typical gay child in love with Madonna and Janet Jackson. I think Madonna got me into fashion. I kind of started down that route, but I was obsessed with Versace at such a young age, and Alexander McQueen and Tom Ford. I used to watch Fashion TV a lot as a kid and I just knew there was something out there that was magical and exciting, and I wanted to find it. 

Eartheater: I feel very similarly, too. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, homeschooled, very sheltered, and my mother is not very glamorous at all. I grew up in a household with three brothers and a single mom. My dad would fly in occasionally throughout my childhood, he was actually the glamorous one. 

Casey Cadwallader: Okay, this we have not talked about!

Eartheater: Yeah – he used to always wear women’s one-piece bathing suits when he went swimming, like hot pink ones. And he used to put sunscreen on, but leave certain parts out in shapes so that he would get burned. 

Casey Cadwallader: Wow, I love that. 

Eartheater: Yeah, he’s obviously the artist of the family. So I think my dad probably planted the first little fashion seed, but I didn’t have a lot of access to it then. I didn’t see it in the streets, I didn’t see it around me. I remember any time I could get my hands on a glossy magazine, I was just drooling, the fantasy of it was just palpable for me. Just dress-up, fantasy, film, drama, in my head constantly. Now, if I’m onstage and I’m not dressed or put together it doesn’t feel like I’m respecting my music.

Casey Cadwallader: That’s for sure. Now that I’ve been able to see you perform live, I understand that relationship for you. If you hadn’t been wearing those little furry brown panties you were wearing that night, it would have been so different. But that’s funny – we were both country girls in the beginning. 

Eartheater: Then we were in Paris together, what a dream. 

Casey Cadwallader: And now we make fantasies, I love it. 

What do you each like about the other, and what’s your friendship based on? 

Casey Cadwallader: For me, Alex is a very intense mix of intelligence, very, very raw sensuality, and scary talent all mixed together – I don’t meet people like her very often. At the same time, she’s extremely grounded, extremely kind, and very generous even though there’s so much going on in her brain. Also, it’s interesting that you grew up with a bunch of brothers because you’re so sexy and you’re so feminine, but you’re also so tough and such a guy. I love that about you. 

Eartheater: Climb me like a tree (laughs). Thank you, wow, I’m blushing. Casey is such a refreshing example of just mega talent and success who’s not lost this deep sense of humanity. I’m still very nervous when I meet people with power. When I met Casey, I was like ‘this is a powerful guy, he’s the creative director of Mugler, which is a massive monolith of a fashion house’. But he was so down to earth and easy to talk to and be myself around. Just hearing how you want your models to be real people with real expressions, thoughts, feelings, and bodies is I think an example of what I’m saying. You make me feel like a supermodel! 

Casey Cadwallader: I think you are now. 

Eartheater: (Screams) There are a lot of things about how I move and walk and look that are contradictory to what has been the cookie cutter. It’s fun to learn how to highlight a body and highlight what we want to as opposed to hiding what we don’t want seen. Seeing how seriously you take that is such a relief for bodies like mine – bigger-boned, taller, more voluptuous, bootylicious bodies. And it’s just like, thank goodness, because there are so many girls that really suffer out here. 

Casey Cadwallader: That’s the thing, it’s just so crazy. Imagine all the amazing people I wouldn’t have met if I was just like ‘she’s not skinny enough’. It’s so boring, and it doesn’t make any sense. There is so much beauty in the world and the fact fashion has been championing just one kind for so long is kind of absurd. There’s so much out there to celebrate and you just keep celebrating people who are six feet tall and skinny a hundred years. I mean, give me a break.

Eartheater: I think that’s why that Mugler legacy had to be carried by the right person, and Casey certainly is. Someone who can make the girls feel good about themselves.

Casey Cadwallader: I think so many girls have been told so many fucked up things about their body and the way they look for so long, and I just don’t see it that way. I want people to enjoy themselves and enjoy fashion. Fashion doesn’t have to be this nasty, cold artifice, it can be this warm place where people come together and celebrate each other. 

“The last 12 months of stagnation have been a massive challenge as far as staying fresh in myself and my psyche. I think what I’ve come to understand is that I’m a restless spirit, but I’ve been so grateful for the intimacy I’ve achieved with very close people in my life” – Eartheater

Alex, could you talk me through your looks this season, and how Casey’s designs make you feel?

Eartheater: This last piece, oh my god. The cool thing is, you’re getting to know my body more and more, and this look really exemplifies that because it’s hardly there. One thing I’ve always said to Casey is ‘I need compression, I need lift, I need support’. I can’t have these girls flopping around (laughs). And he gets that, because everything he’s made me has just always been (makes noise signifying bra security). There’s not much there, but I feel very, very secure and streamlined. 

Casey Cadwallader: It is interesting when you think of the first two looks you wore and how hyper-supported and hyper-covered you were and this time I was like, Alex needs to be more naked. 

Eartheater: Why, thank you. 

Casey Cadwallader: I was like, she looks so amazing. It was so amazing that that tiny piece of fabric and strap kept you in position. It worked and you could walk in it, it was crazy. 

Eartheater: With just the right amount of jiggle. 

Casey Cadwallader: The appropriate amount of jingle. It’s amazing every time I show someone new the video, when Alex comes out they’re like ‘wow, she is amazing’. 

I’m not surprised! Casey, do you design with specific people in your head when you’re first sketching out your designs or does that come later?

Casey Cadwallader: I really try to not ever think about one person. I mean, I do when I’m doing a custom for someone of course. But I try to just make sure I’m not presuming anything. It’s more like ‘would this work on this kind of body, would this work on that kind of body?’ I’m also thinking about the colour palette, like ‘would this be nice on someone with dark skin, would this be nice on a person with yellow tones in their skin?’ I’m always trying to fragment things as much as possible for as many good outcomes as possible. I don’t have one muse, I try to have 500 at a time. 

Do you think the way each of you creates overlaps? Do you have similar approaches to work, or a similar vision? 

Casey Cadwallader: I think there’s something about sensuality that is definitely in both of our works. I think Alex’s music is probably the sexiest music that I listen to, there’s something about it that definitely grooves inside of me in a different way than other music does. I think we also don’t really care what other people think and just need to express ourselves very directly. Work habit ways, I don’t know the intimacies of it but Alex seems like such a hard worker but such a free worker, and I think I always look a lot at Alex. You work a lot at night right Alex?

Eartheater: Yeah. 

Casey Cadwallader: Right. I’m a 9-9 office guy because I kind of have to be. I have a weird corporateness to me and my creativity has to go through a machine, whereas I see Alex as the ultimate pinnacle of hardworking freedom. 

Eartheater: I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. My first thought as soon as Emma asked the question was yeah sexiness – a lot of sexiness and not giving a fuck what anyone else is going to think about it. 

Casey Cadwallader: And I think we both respect the past and respect our references but we’re both trying to go very far forward. 

Eartheater: Yeah that’s absolutely true. When you said you made a promise that you’d never make a boring fashion video, I really related to that. I say things like this constantly. I see it as my job to put things out that nobody has seen before. It’s definitely my ego talking, too, but I just take that so seriously.

Casey Cadwallader: It’s your own self-regard talking. It’s framing your own output for yourself so that you can remember to hit what you think is the most important mark of all. Even though what we do is so different, I do think there is a lot inside there that fuses and aligns us.

How have you each found creating in lockdown? Have you felt inspired? 

Casey Cadwallader: One thing that’s good for me is that I don’t really have a social life right now. I feel like now we’re in confinement, it’s the time to work my ass off and push as much as possible. I’m enjoying my home life so much, but I’ve been very productive in lockdown and I feel much more grounded as I’ve been able to take care of myself and exercise and eat well. I’ve been waking up early, and I never used to get up early. When we get freed from this situation I’m sure I’ll back up a little bit and try to enjoy myself, though. 

Eartheater: I’ve been doing post-production for my last album, and I haven’t really been in the studio making music per se, but it’s bubbling and brewing inside me. Something I’ve been excited about is that I’ve been able to give myself time. The next album is definitely there, but there’s this period where my subconscious is having a conversation with its essence if that makes sense? As I get older, I’ve started to realise that – I can really feel it. 

Casey Cadwallader: I can’t wait for it to find its way out of you! Actually, you know what I haven’t told you yet? Hunter (Schafer) requested to only walk to your music because everyone got to pick what they were coming out to. So, because she opens the show, so does your music. 

Eartheater: Oh my god, I’m so spoiled right now. 

“I’m quite obsessed with my cast being actual human beings with thoughts, words, and expressions, instead of just figures in clothes that walk in space” – Casey Cadwallader

What did you learn about yourself, or the world, or your work that has changed you across the course of the last year, if anything? 

Casey Cadwallader: I used to always want to be somewhere, doing something, all the time. Thursday night, what’s going on? Who is having dinner, what’s happening? Friday night, where are we going? Are we gonna dance? Now, I’m like ‘what am I going to read on Friday night?’ I’ve really changed a lot in that way. I don’t care so much what other people are doing, which is new for me – I’m detached from it all and in my own space, which has been very centering. I feel a lot more peaceful, because while my work life is still very chaotic, I also had a very chaotic social life and it was just too many things at once. There’s a different rhythm now. 

Eartheater: I’m not gonna lie, it hasn’t been all positive for me – there’s been a real sense of claustrophobia, definitely. The last ten years have been so much about touring and travelling, which a lot of people are not cut out for, but I actually understand myself better when my surroundings are shifting. The last 12 months of stagnation have been a massive challenge as far as staying fresh in myself and my psyche. I think what I’ve understood is that I’m a restless spirit, but I’ve been so grateful for the intimacy I’ve achieved with very close people in my life. That’s something I’ve not been able to do so much before. 

Are you planning to continue your collaboration? Do you have any big plans in the pipeline? 

Casey Cadwallader: Dun, dun, dun! We’re family now. I don’t know – when you fall in love with someone you just want to make sure you have an excuse to fly them over to see them, so…

Eartheater: Oh, stop (laughs). Love you, Casey. 

Casey Cadwallader: Love you too honey. 

Okay, last question, and kind of off-topic mainly because I’m nosy. What was the last text you sent each other? 

Casey Cadwallader: I looked it up because it’s cute, it’s so random that’s it’s great. I wrote ‘thank you for my sexy hug noodle and your album, so sweet of you’.

Eartheater: Hopefully I responded to it. (laughs)

Casey Cadwallader: You did, come on. She sent me a care package on Valentine’s Day with this big, furry noodle that my dog and I fight over because my dog loves it too. Then there was a signed copy of her album on vinyl, which has gone right into my collection. But I mean, who sends care packages today? It was so touching and so cute. 

Eartheater: It’s the least I can do.