Jean Paul Gaultier Exhibition
This summer, the Barbican is playing host to the first exhibition dedicated to Jean Paul Gaultier. A multitude of creations from the French designer’s numerous collections including Punk Cancan, Boudoir and Eurotrash are displayed in a unique once in a lifetime opportunity to see these exquisite designs in extreme detail. Tickets are a bit pricey at £14.50 however you get a lot of Gaultier for your money – 165 pieces to be exact, featuring some iconic creations including the corset worn by Madonna in her Blond Ambition tour.
The exhibition is divided up into different sections that act as a guide through the designer’s illustrious career and influences. The first section, Fashion Odyssey, was one of my favourites of the exhibition and showcased some of Gaultier’s most instantly recognisable motifs; the Madonna, mermaids and sailors’ uniforms. Dresses that are reminiscent of glittering fish scales, renaissance paintings as garments, a complete mermaid costume and nautical sailor stripes run through this entire section in a tidal wave of inventiveness. My favourite piece of the entire exhibition (it was hard to choose just one) was the mermaid costume. There was so much detail, technique and skill involved, it looked like something from a dream or fantasy world and it just stood out to me as couture at its finest.
Another highlight of the exhibition is the Punk Cancan section which showcases Gaultier’s influences from the interwar years in Paris, Toulouse Lautrec, the Moulin Rouge and the non-conformist fashion and anti-materialist values of punk which he first encountered in London. The pieces in this section are highly inventive and bursting with colour and creative flair.
My other equally favourite section to Fashion Odyssey, is the Boudoir part of the exhibition. Devoted to arguably Gaultier’s most iconic creations; the corsets. Through his corset designs, Gaultier challenges the conventional perception of women as restricted to domestic roles of wife and mother; the cages and hoops of the corsets symbolising their confinement to these traditions. Instead he creates underwear as outerwear in a symbol of power and liberation. Historically, women wore corsets to conceal pregnancy because of religious beliefs and social expectations, to counteract this, Gaultier constructed a corset that emphasised rather than concealed the physique of a pregnant woman.
The viewing experience is entirely different from seeing Gaultier’s designs printed in magazines or onscreen. The artistry, handiwork and construction in each piece is brought to life and what is most evident is the high level of skill, attention to detail and numerous hours that no doubt went into every item.
Gaultier’s designs are unique in a way that they are instantly recognisable as his work, his sailor themes and boudoir corsets instantly say “Gaultier.” What is all the more fascinating is that he didn’t study fashion design at university, he is a self-taught designer and learnt his skills in fashion at the Pierre Cardin and Jean Patou fashion houses in the early-mid 1970s before setting up his own label in 1976 and his own couture house in 1997.
Throughout the exhibition the mannequins look and speak to you, including one that represents Jean Paul himself with a hologram of his face and a recording of his voice welcoming you to his show and talking about his inspirations. This very theatrical installation pays homage to Gaultier’s creativity and artistic flair. To me, the mannequins take art exhibitions to a new
level and is befitting for a designer who constantly pushes fashion boundaries. “Non-conformist designer seeks unusual models – the conventionally pretty need not apply” the advert placed by Jean Paul Gaultier in the French paper Libération sums up the non-conventional dimension of his fashion designs. Questioning the conventions of beauty and digressing from the norm to create something new that stands alone.
His designs are intriguingly bizarre in a captivating way and being surrounded by them is like being lost in a dream world and is the epitome of when the lines of fashion and art are blurred and become one and the same.
The exhibition is on now at the Barbican until 25th August 2014