Fashion’s l’enfant terrible has been celebrated this month with a retrospective exhibition held at the Grand Palais Museum in Paris for the very first time.
By Christopher Prince
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk encapsulates everything the French maestro has to offer the industry. Over one million people worldwide have visited the exhibition during its international tour, headlining Montréal, Dallas, San Francisco, Madrid, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Brooklyn, London and Australia. Now on its tenth stop on Gaultier’s home soil in Paris, the exhibition hopes to shed light on the couturier’s groundbreaking work with never before seen sketches, along with a lavish display of accessories and stage costumes, archival footage of runway shows, and photographs shot by some of the most famous fashion photographers in the world.
Situated around seven themes, the tale of Gaultier’s development from the streets of Paris to the cinema, emerging in the 1970s as a bright young thing, is displayed through a line up of custom animated mannequins within an intuitive multimedia showspace. The exhibition was first introduced by the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts who have joined forces with the Réunion des musées nationaux for Gaultier’s big Paris preview. Approximately 140 Haute Couture and prêt-à-porte ensembles have been selected to illustrate Gaultier’s incredible career from the early days at age 18, joining the house of Pierre Cardin before moving on to Jacques Esterel and Patou, to dressing some of the most celebrated women in society.
Acknowledged for his play on androgyny, Gaultier’s work was informed by the cultures and countercultures of the Parisian youth society. He strived to reinterpret the status quo, pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable at that time, and with it subverting the fashion codes that are still relevant today. The infamous conical bra and corsets donned by superstar diva Madonna during her acclaimed 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, garnered Gaultier a cult following. He’s also noted for providing songstress Kylie Minogue with many of her standout looks during her X Tour in 2008 and for providing filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education (2004) and The Skin I Live In (2011) with stage costumes. Gaultier has collaborated with artists and photographers such as David LaChapelle, Peter Lindbergh, Cindy Sherman and the great Andy Warhol.
Under the direction of Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator and Thierry-Maxime Loriot, Curator at the MMFA in collaboration with Maison Jean Paul Gaultier, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk strikes a perfect synergy between Gaultier’s radical ideals and modern 21st Century design.
Much of what Gaultier created was intended for shock factor. Through the madness there was always an intrepid business mind. His career took a turn for the serious when, in 2003, he succeeded Martin Margiela as the head designer at Hermès – debuting his first Haute Couture collection for house in 2004. This relationship would last for seven years before Gaultier broke ties after the spring/summer 2011 show. Gaultier’s signature lingerie-style designs, first introduced on his 1984 catwalk in an orange velvet colourway, were touted all over Paris once the late eighties hit. His relationship with Madonna didn’t just spur creative juices, but established the designer as a figure of popular culture. Madonna would go on to walk Gauliter’s runway in 1992, and again in 1994 pushing a pram that concealed her new puppy.
A favourite of many a Hollywood starlet, Gaultier’s designs first cropped up on the red carpet of the 2000 Academy Awards, when Cate Blanchett donned a black gown with an open gold chain back. His defining moment arrived when Marion Cotillard, dressed in a fishtail gown of his own creation, collected the 2007 Best Actress Academy Award for La Vie en Rose. He has been an avid supporter of women, featuring plus size models Sophie Dahl on his spring/summer 2001 catwalk and Crystal Renn on his spring/summer 2006 catwalk, as well as veteran model Inès de La Fressange in his Haute Couture collection a in 2002.
Many of Gaultier’s most prolific stunts have happened over the past few seasons, namely his spring/summer 2012 Haute Couture collection in ode to singer, Amy Winehouse. Music informed his spring/summer 2013 collection as model doppelgänger’s such as David Bowie and Boy George stormed the runway. Whilst his farewell ready-to-wear collection for spring/summer 2015 celebrated a beauty pageant extravaganza, as fashion editors like Grace Coddington, Emmanuelle Alt, Carine Roitfeld and Suzy Menkes made an appearance in pseudo Gaultier alter-egos.