We have become used to hearing about depressed fashion designers, addicted fashion designers, out of touch, overworked or bitter fashion designers (Why are you all looking at me like that?) so to prove there is still a smile playing on the Nars painted lips of the industry, it is my delight to direct your attention to Exhibit A: the perennially perky, madly merry, ever-influential Jean Paul Gaultier.
His work is now on display at the Brooklyn Museum. From a man who once declared, “To be in a museum is (to be in) a cemetery” there were challenges to be met. Therefore this is not a typical exhibition.
From his days on Eurotrash, possibly the zaniest TV programme of my youth (and there were many, I hasten to add. Attempting to describe Grotbags to an American friend recently led to much perplexity), in which he chatted with his friends Pepe and Popo, two giraffes made of cardboard, followed by the surreal breakaway segments showcasing odd events from around the world, say, rabbit showjumping, Jean Paul Gaultier has always been giddily bonkers. That’s why we love him.
This bonkersness careens off the walls of the stately Brooklyn museum. Boing. Wee-heeeee. Boing..Yippeeeeee! The mannequins wearing creations from his archives bear projections of human faces on their smooth round heads so they smile, wink, and speak to you. Sensors are activated when you stop before them and they launch into conversation, mugging, smirking, suggestive. I was up for whatever the young marine fresh off the boat in the Odyssey room had in mind. The host, himself, trills and ooh la las, eyes twinkling, laugh lines deepening, like we were old friends and he’s just plain thrilled to see me. Oh, how I wish we were.
I’m sad for you if you didn’t see Eurotrash in your formative years. But okay, I’m drying my eyes and we’ll try to move past it. For you will remember him as the mad genius behind Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour wardrobe back in the 90s. Or as I like to call him, the man who made Madonna interesting. In her music she has always attached herself to influential producers, collaborators, dance crazes, but she knew, recognized with a certainty she usually reserves for choosing new Latino pool boys, that she could hang up her holey fishnets and Lauperesque tutus when she hitched her ambition wagon to Gaultier. She was made. His costumes dressed her for a place in the history books, gave her music a unique form, cinched, belted, buckled and strapped with, yes, breasts like missiles.
And then of course there is his catwalk fashion. Almost forty years of it. Behind all the brio and joie de vivre, the delicious perversiveness, the tongue-in-cheek sailor tops and berets, there is the inimitable skill of the couturier, the meticulous detail of an obsessively questioning mind, the gorgeously refined manifestations of his inherent rebelliousness, and the clothes that deserve to be stared at and studied no matter what smutty innuendo the mannequin next to you might distract you with. Well, just have a look for yourself, you’ll see…
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier; From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk stays in Brooklyn until February 2014 and then heads to the Barbican in London.