Haute couture fall/winter 2010–2011. Couretsy © Patrice Stable/Jean Paul Gaultier.
Chief among the many treasures in “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From Sidewalk to Catwalk” is the Parisian courtier’s long-loved teddy bear. Its fur has worn off. Its nose was rubbed out. It wears… a cone bra. The designer made it when he was seven. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether it’s the definitive answer to the imponderable “Is creativity born or bred?” or the definitive defense of all boys with sewing kits.
Following a banner run at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the first exhibition of Jean Paul Gaultier’s work just landed at the Dallas Museum of Art before making its way to San Francisco in February, then on to Madrid. This fall, Gaultier characterized his obsessions in Susan Orlean’s profile in The New Yorker as “Flesh, ethnicity, different kinds of global beauty, cinema, my interest with Madonna, tattoos, the Parisienne, the male as object, all that kind of thing.” This and more is on display in the exhibition, which is arranged in sections as disparate as “Punk Cancan” and “The Boudoir.”
To capture the dynamism of Gaultier’s designs, the museum, in collaboration with the Maison Jean Paul Gaultier, curated video excerpts of runway shows and interviews, original sketches and more than 130 ensembles, many of which have never been seen before. The most stunning aspect of the multimedia mishmash is UBU/Compagnie de Création designers Denis Marleu and Stéphanie Jasmin’s 30 mannequins, enabled to “speak” through prerecorded facial projections. The effect is magical. A mannequin of Gaultier in a signature sailor-striped shirt pipes up with design aphorisms, to create the impact of viewing the exhibition with the courtier himself.
For one whose designs have spurred high street trends, the show wouldn’t be complete without a nod to his famous admirers. A 424-page exhibition catalogue features interviews with Pedro Almodóvar, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Madonna and Dita Von Teese, among others. To my mind, Gaultier’s bold aesthetic and unapologetic sex appeal recall Mae West, who died just a few years after the designer released his first collection. “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful,” she once said. And that’s still true today. Through February 12; dm-art.org.
Traveler tip: Book a Jean Paul Gaultier Getaway at The Joule for a one-stop shop that includes: accommodations, museum tickets and 10 percent off the museum gift shop and café, Charlie Palmer cocktails and a Neiman Marcus mani/pedi and personal shopper. From $389.