The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: from the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, the first international exhibition devoted to French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier, opened on Friday at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, celebrating, through more than 140 outfits, mannequins animated by video projection and sketches, stage costumes and film footage, the 35th anniversary of the designer’s own label.
Born in Paris in 1952, Gaultier began working as a studio assistant for Pierre Cardin in 1970. Dubbed an enfant terrible for designs intended to shock and amuse, Gaultier launched his ready-to-wear label in 1976 and his haute couture house in 1997, and today is one of only a few labels still showing couture collections. He has dressed actresses and singers from Catherine Deneuve to Lady Gaga; his costumes for Madonna’s 1990 Blonde Ambition tour are among the most famous stage outfits of all time.
To accompany the exhibition, its curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot has edited a monograph, from which the following extract is taken.
Pierre Cardin [designer] You are a true designer when people recognise your work without even looking at the label. This is the case for Jean Paul Gaultier.
Inès de la Fressange [model and designer] His fame is that of a pop star’s. He has made a great contribution to fashion but people do not necessarily know that he was responsible for launching underwear as outerwear and visible lingerie, and that the comeback of the corset is his doing.
Pierre Cardin I don’t see why he stubbornly persists in putting women back into corsets. They’ve only just got rid of them. However, he found a way to show them like no one before: what should be under is over, and so on …
Madonna [singer] I liked his clothes in terms of their gender confusion, the way he mixed masculinity and femininity together. I thought he was very provocative, that he was making a political statement with his fashions in a way no one else was. One of the things he came up with was the pairing of one of his classically masculine pin-striped suits with a salmon-coloured corset that had conical bra cups.
Dita Von Teese [performer] I started dressing in vintage and loving lingerie partly because I was a fan of Jean Paul Gaultier’s designs. When, in 1991, Madonna presented her Truth or Dare (In Bed with Madonna) documentary at the Cannes film festival dressed as a pin-up in a white bullet bra and pink cape by Gaultier, her hair black, that really struck me. I consider it one of the finest red-carpet moments in history.
Madonna Gaultier’s corsets are very sexy looking and I consider wearing them a form of personal expression. I wore those corsets as garments – on the outside – not as underwear hidden beneath my other clothes, the complete opposite of the way they were traditionally worn, in order to achieve a certain shape. I think that inversion of the concept of the corset is what turns it into a symbol of feminine power and sexual freedom.
Carine Roitfeld [former Vogue editor and stylist] The conical bras, corsets and skirts for men had ensured Gaultier’s bad-boy reputation, so everyone wondered what he was going to do [when he decided to launch couture]. He caused a shock by presenting a classic haute couture show, with each outfit having a number that was announced as the model walked down the runway, as had been the custom in the past. In that way, he lent credibility to couture again while, at the same time, his creations offered something completely new.
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy [model, singer, actress and wife of the French president] When he [Gaultier] went into haute couture, many people maintained that he was too avant-garde and eccentric to succeed. They were doubtlessly somewhat afraid of him. However, his very first fashion show astounded us all. Couture allowed him to design complicated garments that would have been impossible to create otherwise.
Catherine Deneuve [actress] When Yves Saint Laurent retired in 2002, I thought my days of wearing haute couture were probably over. That said, I had attended all of Gaultier’s shows since 1997 and, in terms of couture, his are now the only designs I do wear. Jean Paul is a true couturier, as is Nicolas Ghesquière,and was Alexander McQueen. People like them are few and far between.
Inès de la Fressange His career reminds me of that of Saint Laurent, who was just as revolutionary in his time and whose fashions were not intended for a traditional clientele. Chanel must have considered Saint Laurent as her successor, and Saint Laurent could have seen his own in Gaultier.
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy The absolute classicism that coexists with an incredible originality is what I love about his work.
Carine Roitfeld He’s always used entertaining themes in a very creative way, like for his Russian constructivist collection, or The Concierge is in the Staircase or Chic Rabbis shows, where it was a huge challenge, for example, to pay tribute to traditional Jewish dress.
Pierre Cardin I remember him suggesting a number of really amusing things, like a canine spacesuit – a unisex jumpsuit for dogs – and a wedding outfit for bride and groom.
Kylie Minogue [singer] Jean Paul has worked with other performers and ballet companies, so he knows the need for durability and understands that you have to be able to get in and out of those spectacular creations in mere minutes, if not seconds. For my X 2008 tour, my creative director William Baker and I went to a few Gaultier couture shows and chose looks that were then modified or recreated for me.
Carine Roitfeld Relations are often strained between couturiers and their head dressmakers but not in Jean Paul’s atelier. Everyone adores him and will go to a lot of trouble to make his gowns.
Madonna Fittings with Gaultier, who is such a high-energy person, are exhausting extravaganzas. I admit I hate fittings … they take so long. Gaultier, however, always managed to distract me from my misery.
Kylie Minogue To have a design and fitting session with Jean Paul at his couture salon is to witness an artist at work. You can practically see his mind ticking over with ideas as he and Mireille, the head of the atelier, pin, tie, rip, snip and stitch.
Juliette Binoche [actress] When I went to see Jean Paul in his atelier, he studied me with a sculptor’s eyes. My body was no longer a body but a language. He has never put himself first, he brings out the other person’s own personality.
Carine Roitfeld He’s the one who best understands la Parisienne since the rules she lives by are deeply rooted in him. A Gaultier woman wears make-up, she’s feminine, but she also has a bit of a tomboy attitude. She’s not afraid of anything, she feels good about herself, about her relationship with men, her sensuality and sexuality. He knows our country’s conventions inside out and has been able to hang on to his national identity.
Juliette Binoche Yet what he makes is infused with his ideas, his passions and enthusiasms. Because in the end, it’s all him and should be. The other him: the designer.
Quotes from ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier’, published by Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Abrams to accompany the show, organised in collaboration with Maison Gaultier, at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (www.mmfa.qc.ca) until October 2. The show is then at Dallas Museum of Art, from November 13 to February 12, 2012; and the de Young Museum in San Francisco, from March to August 2012