Jean Paul Gaultier
Is fashion art? That's the concept Jean Paul Gaultier plays with in his brand new exhibit at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, titled, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier. From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. After seeing it first hand-which I highly recommend you do-you'll be able to answer that question with a confident, "Yes."
Spanning the French fashion designer's successful career since the 1970's, the exhibit includes over 140 ensembles - the best and most fascinating pieces from his 150 couture and ready-to-wear collections and more. You'll see his cone-shaped bras and bustiers that Madonna made famous, his iconic blue-and-white sailor stripes, and his costume designs for movies like The Fifth Element. The installation is the first retrospective of its kind dedicated to the designer. Gaultier himself jokes, "Usually, exhibitions are for the dead, but I am alive!"
Indeed, Gaultier is alive… as is his exhibit. In an innovative and modern effort to elevate the visitor's experience, Gaultier's exhibit features animated mannequins. They're faces move, talk, sing, and look so real, you feel compelled to get insanely close to confirm that they are, indeed, just video images projected onto the mannequins' molded heads (see how they were madehere). The effect is mesmerizing and achieves exactly what Gaultier, the exhibition's curator,Thierry-Maxime Loriot, and the director and chief curator of The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Nathalie Bondil, (all pictured below) had intended: to bring Gaultier's designs to life!
Thierry, Jean Paul Gaultier, Nathalie
As Bondil explained in a press conference, "The faces are not just a special effect. Gaultier thought the mannequins should be alive, because fashion is alive. He wanted them to have real physicalities, and wanted real people to embody the fashion."
Gaultier added, "It looks like real people because of the movement, and the liveliness makes it feel like the real thing."
These animated mannequins are scattered throughout the six themed sections of the exhibition:
"The Odyssey of Jean Paul Gaultier," which features Gaultier's early work and experimentation with his favorite themes of sailors, mermaids and virgins;
"The Boudoir," where one will find the numerous corsets and cone-shaped bras that made him famous, including the costumes from Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour that she happily donated to the exhibit;
"Skin Deep," the section where one can see Gaultier's obsession with the beauty and seductive nature of skin, showing it off and creating new layers of it with clothes;
"Punk Cancan," where his love affair with the cities of Paris and London are displayed through the sexy and punk-rock designs he created for the women who live there;
"Urban Jungle," the section where one can see how Gaultier knows no ethnic boundaries, and uses the uniqueness of several cultures to influence his work;
and finally, "Metropolis," Gaultier's more modern creations that border on fantasy and science fiction - he designed these for several genres, including movies, dance performances, and pop icons like Lady Gaga.
Below are photos from the exhibit, as well as snippets from my interviews with Gaultier and the exhibition curator, Thierry-Maxime Loriot:
"I didn't go to fashion school," Gaultier said in our interview. "I was only in my little suburb as a young boy and I was dreaming about fashion, because I saw movies like Falbalas, which was a beautiful and romantic story. I wanted to do the same types of clothes. So, I became interested in fashion more and more and the fashion of the times."
"Madonna was very open, super receptive to loan the pieces, and she was very happy that something was finally being done on Gaultier," says Loriot, the exhibition curator who contacted Madonna to ask she donate some of her pieces from her Blonde Ambition Tour. "Theirs was the very first collaboration between a runway fashion designer and a pop icon. Before that, it was more costume designers with singers. Madonna has incredible archives - she keeps everything in Los Angeles. It's all in museum condition, it's fantastic. It's like a dream to go through there!"
Gaultier recalls of his early childhood: "During grade school, I sketched a girl with fishnets and ostrich feathers. The teacher came over and was so mean. I was 9-years old. She saw that sketch and she was furious - she thought I should be drawing something else. So, she made me stand up, she taped my sketch to my back, and she made me tour all the other classes. She thought it would be humiliating, but for me, it could have been humiliating, but I was already rejected. I was already not good at football, but to all those others who rejected me, they found it funny. They even smiled and asked me after to make a sketch for them. I realized a long time after that happened that I could express myself through my sketch, through my work, and to be accepted that way."
"For the Parisian collection [shown above], having it move was a nice way to explain how the clothes move and how to make clothes alive without using animation," says Loriot. "All the clothes glitter and it's fantastic - you couldn't get the same feeling with a standing mannequin."
"Girls are more open, more clever," says Gaultier. "The man will stay a little boy, playing football and being interested in winning. The women are more interesting. So, I try to show a woman who's strong and feminine at the same time, because she chooses to be that - she's not obliged to have it. It's because she chooses it and she loves it."
The Fifth Element
"The set of The Fifth Element was very dusty, so some of the pieces [Gaultier designed for the movie] were ripped and brownish," recalls Loriot. "So, for pieces like that, I think it's better to show the movie excerpts than the real costume."
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier. From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk will be in The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from now until October 2, 2011. Afterwards, it will pick up and move to the following cities:
-Dallas Museum of Fine Art (November 13, 2011 - February 12, 2012)
-Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young (March 24 - August 19, 2012)
-Fundacion Mapfre - Instituto de Cultura, Madrid (September 26 - November 18, 2012)
-Kunsthal Rotterdam, the Netherlands (February 9 - May 12, 2013)
If the exhibit is not coming to a place near you, you can get the same experience from the catalogue, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk($84.95, distributed internationally starting in September). This incredibly massive, 424-page reference book contains over 550 photographs (some, never before published) of Gaultier's work, taken by such famous names as Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts and more.
It also contains essays and interviews with his fans and muses, such as Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Boy George, Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren, and Dita Von Teese.
"The book is amazing," Gaultier says. "I will probably never make another one, because this has everything in it!"
For more information on the exhibit, visit mmfa.qc.ca.
Faye Brennan is senior editor at BettyConfidential.
Read more at BettyConfidential.com: