*The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk* recently landed in San Francisco - the first exhibition devoted to the celebrated French designer and his signature design themes. Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, this homage to the onetime "enfant terrible" of French fashion includes accessories, stage costumes, film clips, archival documents & 140 ensembles from both ready-to-wear and the Haute Couture - more than three decades worth.
Not your standard boring "traditional" retrospective, this extravaganza explores the designer's fascination with lingerie and naughty nothings (remember the awesome Madonna cone-bra body suit from her Blonde Ambition tour?) bondage, mermaids & sailors, body art, punk, virgins and a multiculti soup of influences including the Hussars, Mongolians, Hassidic Jews, Frida Kahlo & China...basically a roving-eye aesthetic where no culture (or counterculture) is left behind. "Beyond the technical virtuosity, an unbridled imagination, and ground-breaking artistic collaborations, Gaultier offers an open-minded vision of society, a crazy, sensitive, and sassy world in which everyone can assert his or her own identity through a unique ‘fusion couture'," explains Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "I wanted to create an exhibition on Jean Paul Gaultier more than any other couturier because of his great humanity."
Translation: traditional tribal tartans get a Steampunk overhaul; a bodysuit is screenprinted with the inner workings of the body (think medical illustration taken from the Gray's Anatomy textbook) making it a literal "suit" for your body; the prim & proper framebag named for the prim & proper Grace Kelly gets interpreted as a fetishistic corset; bullfighting costumes are made wearable...torreadorable if you will.
"There were so many categories of clothing types he rethought, yet he was by my estimation nearly successful at all of them," opines Perrin Lam who shot all these wonderful pix, including this self-portrait (right) at the exhibit where he was rocking a snazzy double-breasted JPG jumpsuit he's owned for more than 30 years (this former "Mad Men" advertising copywriter now designs Novodeco, a line of jewelry and accessories he describes as "100 years of modernism with the blender on *high*). "I liked nearly everything - especially some of the more outrageous but probably less commercially successful pieces. He wants to try to fail to see just how much he can succeed. What stands out in every piece was his sense of humor and whimsy. Yet he's never outrageous just for the sake of it, but for the love of where it takes him. What surprised me most was how he was able to see the architecture of a corset as a font of creative expression and evolution."
"Nearly as surprising was his attention to detail and his absolutely superior execution," continues Perrin. "Often dreamers can be forgiven for not being as detailed in turning the dream to reality. His finish work, when you really examined a seam in a garment up close, was startlingly fine."
The exhibit will be on view at the de Young in the Herbst Exhibition Galleries until August 19, 2012. "I hope people will visit the show - and more than once if they're able," adds Perrin, "to understand how fun and different fashion can be when it's in the hands of someone playful and passionate - someone who obviously goes to work everyday, rubs his hands together with great gusto and says, "I wonder what crappy, conventional insult to fashion I can blow to smithereens today?"