FROM SIDEWALK TO CATWALK
Everyone loves a ´bad boy´and the unforgiving world of fashion is no different. Once dubbed ´L’Enfant Terrible´ Jean Paul Gaultier´s view on fashion has always come with a cheeky smile (none more memorable than the infamous conical bra worn by Madonna in the 1990´s.)
Right now, JPG returns to home soil to present one of the most comprehensive and personal exhibitions of his world tour ´The Fashion World Of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.´ This is a visual extravaganza of a show, with a moving catwalk, a set designed to look like a boudoir and mannequins wearing wigs designed by hair stylist Odile Gilbert with faces projected onto their heads to make them appear alive.
The French maestro said that he had previously resisted the idea of a museum show, ¨because that is something for when you’re dead¨. However, by making ¨an adventure of a show¨he could put more of a Gaultier spin on the retrospective.
All of Gaultier’s celebrated designs are included, from the outfit worn by Madonna on the Blonde Ambition tour to costumes for Pedro Almodovar’s films and the ´pregnant´ Jourdan Dunn corset she modelled in 2009. As well as homage to his apparel skills, there are also scatterings of his performance days a la Eurotrash, the late night show Gaultier appeared on in the mid-1990´s alongside his highly celebrated (and remembered) Spitting Image effigy, complete with tartan kilt and peroxide quiff.
I have loved corsets since I was small. When I was a child, my grandmother took me to an exhibition, and they had a corset on display. I loved the flesh color, the salmon satin, the lace – Jean Paul Gaultier
The homage to this didactic designer works through different themes of Gaultier’s Design Classics, starting with the Breton stripe. The first galleries show its various incarnations as a long sequin sheath dress, a huge hat and as a cropped top for men. A mannequin dressed as Gaultier in striped jumper, kilt and peroxide hair sets the showcase.
A room labelled Punky Cancan explores Gaultier’s love of London’s street culture, which he encountered during visits to London in the 1980´s. Kilts, tartan, ripped denim and camouflage are abundant, but re-interpreted into ball gowns and smart suiting. This cross continental combination of satirical design with couture quality pays a solid recognition to Gaultier’s trademark style. ¨There is a lot of London in my work¨ he said. ¨I was more at home there than in Paris at one point.¨
Parisienne Gaultier was self-taught and set up his ready-to-wear label in 1976, before finally making the leap to couture in 1997. Having recently celebrated his 63rd birthday, he now enters into the fifth decade in the fashion industry with a stock archive to do any exhibition hall justice (and in the Grand Palais opposite Sant Germain de Pres, which is no mean feat.)
The upper galleries of the exhibition have some darker and deeply dramatic sets. In one gallery there are captions on how many hours his creations took to make (with one red raffia and tulle design, for the spring/summer 2005 Tribute to Africa collection, clocking in at 163 hours.) Originally exhibited in Montreal in 2011, the Paris stop marks the tenth venue for the Jean Paul Gaultier retrospecrive, which has now been seen by just under one million visitors.
Other main points of interest within this visual showcase are the rooms dedicated to the muses of Gaultier. Madonna’s corset is here, along with Polaroids of the designer and the pop star backstage. Designs worn by Naomi Campbell (including a memorable body stocking with sequins for pubic hair) are featured alongside those worn by Kate Moss and Kylie Minogue.
A picture of Minogue, photographed by Gaultier collaborators Pierre et Gilles in 2008, shows the singer as an alternative religious icon, wearing a flowing chiffon gown, surrounded by tiny topless sailors with angel wings. This is a typical Gaultier set-up; couture design mixed with high camp thematics. The exhibition follows predictable standards, and is all the more pleasing for it.
The next stop of the exhibition is unknown, but there will be no doubt that the artist from Arcueil will be the topic of conversation in Paris for many collections to come.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography: Jean Paul Gaultier / Grand Palais Paris