French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, often referred to as the enfant terrible when he started in the 70s, is now widely acknowledged as one of the most important fashion designers in the world. The exhibition ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’, which opens this week at the Barbican, testifies of his enormous talent, creativity and curiosity.
Organised by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with Maison Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris, this comprehensive exhibition is spectacular and theatrical. It is a real art show staging around 165 garments displayed in various installations and presented according to eight themes: The Odyssey of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Punk Cancan, Muses, The Boudoir, Metropolis, Eurotrash, Skin Deep and Urban Jungle.
As soon as you enter into the great gallery space of the Barbican, you see some of the portraits of Gaultier including the famous one by Pierre et Gilles with a pink frame and daisy flowers and a small Eiffel Tower in the background. Gaultier wears his iconic Breton-striped motif tee shirt, inspired by the typical sailor attire from his childhood memories and reinterpreted in his collections in all sorts of combinations with accessories such as feathers or sequins. Other photographs by internationally renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, David LaChapelle, Cindy Sherman and Peter Lindbergh are displayed throughout the two-level exhibition.
What is really stunning in the show is the way that the mannequins were designed to enhance the visitor’s experience. Through special audiovisual techniques using projectors, the faces of the mannequins look alive. Their facial features move, they occasionally blink, look sideways, articulate their mouths. Among them, a mannequin of Gaultier is welcoming and talking to the visitors with his charming quintessential French accent.
The mannequins are wearing wigs and headdresses by famous French hair stylist Odile Gilbert from Atelier 68 in Paris who worked among others on Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette film.
At the private reception before the opening of the exhibition, Gaultier appears very relaxed, welcoming his guests with a big smile. Blue eyes, white hairs “en brosse”, dressed with an elegant black jacket and long skirt, he doesn’t seem to age. However, no mohawk, no kilt. This was reserved for some other guests attending the evening.
He speaks with passion about his love for London and the Londoners. “In Paris,” he said, “people used to watch how you’re dressed and criticise. When I came to London in the 70s, I loved the way people expressed themselves through their clothing. I was very inspired.” Gaultier is deeply interested in street fashion and the exhibition shows all his main inspirations from punk culture, world cultures and religious iconography such as for example the imagery used in the Virgins collection.
The French designer has many muses and three of them were present at the party: Jade Parfitt, Farida Khelfa and Erin O’Connor. “I am interested in different types of beauty that exist in the world,” he says. The Muses section of the show includes a series of newly commissioned portraits by British artist Annie Kevans, from Boy George and Amy Winehouse to Kate Moss and David Bowie. A Gaultier portrait edition is also on sale at the gallery store, which includes a very attractive range of merchandising.
French furniture company Roche Bobois is one of the supporters of the exhibition and has launched a range of furniture dressed and designed by Gaultier such as carpets, chairs and floor lamps.
It is a very important exhibition in terms of creativity, diversity and the importance of streets fashion and style. Gaultier is very happy that the exhibition could be organised at the Barbican. At the evening, he says: “You represent all what I like.” As always, the Barbican has a multi-disciplinary approach and is matching the exhibition with many other related events. It is worth pointing out that Gaultier curates a film series, including Becker’s film ‘Falbalas’, which inspired him to become a designer.
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier:
From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk
Barbican Art Gallery, London 9 April 2014 – 25 August 2014