A self taught clothes designer, a self proclaimed humanist and unarguably a fashion institution; Jean Paul Gaultier has been a true innovator in fashion and has broken stereotypes throughout his 40 year career. The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is an impressive retrospective and highlights a truly inspirational body of work, however what I feel sets this show apart is the unequivocal feeling of Jean Paul Gaultier’s presence within the show.
It’s more than just his clothes (which are breathtaking) it’s his vision, his personality and his perspective on fashion and beauty. The show has been curated more as an installation than a retrospective and collections are not displayed chronologically giving you a unified perspective of a vision not just a series of fashion seasons.
The collections span his whole career to date with everything from the sublime gender swapping outfits, the first male skirt on the catwalk, the punk tartan suits and specially designed mowhawk’s and the couturier pieces individually labelled to show the hours spent on each outfit to the endearingly ridiculous aspects such as his spitting image doll from the 80’s show. As entertaining and thought provoking as his collections have been they are also highly skilled and it is breathtaking to observe in such close proximity the intricacy of the couture and demi couture pieces. The mannequins deserve a special mention and are a spectacle in themselves with faces projected upon them to create a lifelike quality. They are truly captivating when you walk in and were imagined by Gaultier as he joked that ‘museums were for dead people’, he did not want to have a serious exhibition with minimalistic neoclassical style mannequins, instead he envisioned a show that really celebrated not only his work but the people that have inspired him.
I was reminded that Jean Paul Gaultier has had a colourful and diverse career outside of his own fashion house too, from creative director at Hermés to hosting his own TV show; if you are old enough you will no doubt remember Eurotrash with its brightly coloured studio hosting whimsical, tongue in check and sometimes outrageous content. He was even immortalised with his own Spitting Image puppet.
If all this was not enough, JPG has designed and collaborated on many film costumes, the most well known is Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element which is one of my favourite films. If I could have been any character in a film it would have been Leeloo although I could only dream of pulling off the bandage/ orange brace combo. You may be surprised to know he has collaborated on many visually beautiful films with Pedro Almodóvar on Kika, La Mala Educación (Bad Education) and The Skin I Live in and he created the avant garde costumes in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. This is a true testament to his understanding of clothes and the powerful statement they make in that his costumes often translate a character to the audience before the have spoken a single scripted word. Putting aside my own sense of underachievement after an hour spent marvelling one persons career, this show truly evokes an emotion when you visit, JPG is everywhere in it and his sentiment that everyone is beautiful and that fashion is fun is palpable. It is a testament to a show when it is curated in a way that can leave you feeling you have stepped inside an artists mind and felt their values and to an extent their vision.
At the beginning of the exhibition a JPG mannequin welcomes you in English and in French and he tells you that he is not an artist but a person who loves clothes … but I disagree, I think he is a true artist. I’ll leave you with quote from Boy George on his work as I feel it gives a true example of how his designs affect people
“I was not a drag queen. I was in a blurry area that people couldn’t figure out ;they couldn’t categorise me, put me in a box. People had a misconception of what homosexuality really was; they didn’t realise that not all homosexuals could be defined by the usual stereotypes. If a gay man did not exactly fit into what people thought of as the gay scene, he was an outsider in a world of outsiders. In the 1980s and 1990s, many new types of sexuality were begin explored and the definitions were changing. In this respect, Gaultier’s use of feminine elements in mens clothing and making it look ‘normal’ were truly groundbreaking.” Boy George The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, in collaboration with Maison Jean Paul Gaultier, Paris. The exhibition is curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot of the MMFA. The show is held at the Barbican.