Thursday, 10 April 2014

Sidewalk to Catwalk: A morning with Jean Paul Gaultier

It's always a blast of fresh air as a film critic when I get to do something that doesn't involve sitting in a dark screening room. Tuesday was the launch of the Barbican's newest exhibition, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, a suitably extravagant collection of clothes, drawings, photos and other goodies from the lively designer's career. The kind of comprehensive exhibition we usually see at the V&A, the Barbican has outdone itself, taking the traveling show from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and expanding it with Gaultier's special love of Britain.

After the opening speeches, Gaultier settled in for a terrific chat with ludicrously dishy curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot (above), during which Gaultier said that he loves London so much that he would have liked to live here if the fashion world would have let him. "I feel more at home here," he said. "The energy and eccentricity is unique maybe because it's an island. But I'm one-eighth English so I will claim it." He wanted this version of the show to be funny, lively and specifically London-slanted, and drew a sketch on the wall (right) at the entrance to launch the exhibition, which runs until 25th August.

And what a show it is! It's packed with iconic clothes we know, from a vast collection of Madonna's cone-bras to memorable outfits for Grace Jones and Boy George (right) as well as Kylie Minogue, Dita Von Teese, Kate Moss and many more. There are also catwalk scenes with eerily animated mannequins showing off both wearable fashions and haute couture (including a metre-high Union Jack mohawk, below).

The show also includes Gaultier's costumes for movies by Peter Greenaway, Pedro Almodovar and Luc Besson, as well as a room dedicated to his special relationship with Britain, including the kitch-classic 1990s series EuroTrash, his Spitting Image puppet and his memorable appearance on Absolutely Fabulous. The show is accompanied by a week of movies in May that influenced Gaultier or feature his work.
The thing that makes Gaultier so singular is, as he puts it, his refusal to accept the stereotype. He designs for all kinds of beauty - any age, ethnicity, size, gender. "I look around and see all kinds of people," he says, "and these characters have an impact on me." He has fun with fashion without ever resorting to satire. "But it's not an abstraction," he adds. "The best thing in the world is seeing people wearing my clothes."

It's hard to imagine another designer who would get a specially made eclair created for him by one of the show's sponsors, Boulangerie-Patisserie Paul (talk about a canny marketing trick!): not only is its design gorgeously simple, but it's also seriously delicious.

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