I am not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been in love with Jean-Paul Gaultier’s vision since I can remember – well before Madonna’s iconic cone corset. Dubbed fashion’s enfant terrible, Jean Paul Gaultier launched his first prêt-à-porter collection in 1976. “Emerging as a designer in the 1970s, he developed his own dress codes that reflected the changing world around him. Gaultier’s designs tackle gender and transgender issues through androgynous, gender-bending styles. Always provocative, he addresses issues of multiculturalism by bringing ethnic diversity to the Paris runway. Despite the gritty and sometimes controversial context of his collections, the clothes remain beautiful, superbly crafted with the finest dressmaking and detailing skills.”
Between Jean Paul Gaultier and Mel Gibson in Braveheart, is it really any wonder why I am a sucker for a skirt on a man? His prints. His fabrics! How he mixes textures and colors, street fashion and haute-couteur – how he creates the exceptional from the totally unexpected. Shell bras. Medieval Giotto-like halos. His signature sailor-striped shirts (along with the requisite white sailor hat?) And don’t even get me started on the whole equestrian bondage look.
Like Gaultier’s iconic fashion, the exhibition defies description, and includes 140 haute couture and prêt-à-porter designs created between the mid-1970s and 2010, along with numerous sketches, archival documents, fashion photographs, and video clips that spotlight Gaultier’s collaborations with filmmakers, choreographers, and musicians, most notably Madonna.
As you enter the exhibit, you are greeted by the designer – well – his animated self – dressed in his signature sailor shirt, and you are transported into his magical, provocative yet tender world, where cultural boundaries are blurred, fashion norms are completely turned upside down and the sexual revolution screams to be noticed, yet somehow not distracting from the exquisitely delicate, etherial and elegant gowns that are featured right alongside. He cleverly uses animation in the form of holograms on the faces of the 30 of the manequins – to bring them to life. They sing, scoff, look at you as you’re passing by, and more than anything, give the story of the designs they’re wearing.