Nov 262011

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is a much anticipated exhibit that highlights Gaultier’s career from the 70’s to 2010. Lucky for us, Dallas was one of the only two US cities chosen to host it and the Fashioning Circuits crew went to see what the buzz was about.

Gaultier’s is one of the most respected and controversial designers of our generation. His creations are aesthetically challenging and force the viewers to reflect on our society’s standards, prejudices and limitations. From Madonna’s cone bra cups to the costumes used in the movie Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994), his ideas are incorporated in our imaginary database probably a lot more than we realize – or give him credit for. More than a fashion designer, in this exhibit it is possible to see Gaultier as a contemporary artist whose influence is all around us – his creations are iconic and buried deep in our minds.

With 140 models and divided into 6 sections ( The Odyssey of Jean Paul Gaultier, The boudoir, Skin Deep, Punk Cancan, Urban Jungle and Metropolis), the exhibit was created by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to celebrate 50 years of Gaultier’s career, but apparently the designer was not too keen on the idea at first. He did not want a “cemetery exhibition” of his creations. In response to that request the MMFA , in partnership with Denis Marleau’s theater company, created the talking mannequins – in my opinion, one of the best parts of this art show. With sculpted faces, these mannequins have a video-face projected on them – with eyes and mouths moving. Sounds come out of the near speakers, giving the illusion that they are present, looking at the viewers and singing or giving random speeches. But if you listen closely, you will realize their speeches are not so random. Gaultier’s philosophy on fashion (“be yourself”, “do not conform”) is translated into philosophic conversations between those mannequins. Those “talking heads” make the exhibit come to life.

A glimpse of the talking mannequins

And Gaultier’s philosophy is not only propagated by the mannequins: writings on the walls, the projected movies he designed for, every corner in that place seem to scream his ideas. After going through all the sections and taking in his provocative concepts – the male as a sex symbol, the liberation of women’s sexuality, thoughts on gender and embracing homosexuality  – it is humanly impossible not to leave the museum with a new found sense of freedom.

My favorite part of all six sections was Punk Cancan. The only “Ready to wear” segment of the entire exhibit makes every women want a piece of clothing from Gaultier’s in their closet. Looks that flatter any body type with style and glamour – even the punk mannequins look gracious in their plaid trench coats and spiked combat boots. Inspired by London’s streets, his mix of couture and punk shows that a lot of times the street sets the trends and it is the designer’s job to make it look high end and desirable around the world.

Figure 1. Punk Cancan; picture via

Because let’s not be fooled by the talking heads and pop references: even though everything is really interesting, the true show is the garments. In every one of them you can see the amount of work that has been put into that piece – some of them actually have the number of hours it took for that attire to be ready. It reflects how much hard work and thought goes into fashion, into making something utterly amazing. And that’s where the exhibit really wins: it states and proves that fashion can be art and can belong in a museum. As a long as the fashion designer believes and treats his creations as art pieces – like Gaultier does.

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