Last Wednesday I visited the international exhibition: The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gautier, From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, in the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. The exhibition, which runs through May 12, spotlights almost four decades of the French designer’s work. From haute couture to ready-to-wear collections, and from the early seventies till present day designs. Yesterday, in part 1, I reviewed three of the six thematic areas in the show. Let’s continue!
When entering the exhibition, in the so-called Odyssey area, you are drawn into Gaultier’s world by talking mannequins with video-animated faces, men in skirts, his signature blue and white Breton stripe designs, and Jean Paul Gautier himself! Gaultier was inspired by a theater performance in Avignon that projected real faces onto blank figures and tapped the experimental theater company Ubu to animate 32 of the 140 mannequins in the exhibition. His multimedia approach, including videos, music and movies, makes this exhibition anything from ordinary. But that is after all what he is famed for. It makes you leave bedazzled but also in a state of contemplation about the many messages and stories inherent in his designs.
What I learned
While taking everything in, closely looking at the designs, and reading the background information, I learned three things:
- Jean Paul Gautier reverses, reforms, reputes and reinterprets the status quo with, and in his designs. He pushes the boundaries of gender, sexuality, and multiculturalism. He mixes and matches cultural influences as I showed you yesterday, but also creates androgynous forms and plays with sexual conventions.
- Gautier has a distinct signature that permeates throughout his collections. A lot of his designs have the most eye catching tailoring in the back, like an unconventional bare back, a train, and intricate detailing. This element of surprise and cheek make his designs bold and daring.
- Gaultier is a master of small details. Not only his haute couture but also his prêt-à-porter has been sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced seamstresses. You don’t have to be an expert to see that the garments are made with time-consuming, hand-executed techniques. His designs include millions of tiny beads, shells, minuscule feathers, crochet techniques etc that are single-handedly sewn onto delicate fabrics. I applaud the seamstresses. They produce masterpieces!
The Odyssey area represents Gaultier’s designs that relate to his signature look, the navy Breton stripe look in all its themes and variations on one side of the room. On the other side we see whimsical gowns from the Virgins (or Madonnas) collection, Haute couture spring/summer 2007 and singing mermaids in the Mermaids collection.
In extreme contrast to the former area the Boudoir focuses on the designer’s delight for corsets and the ballet which was strangely inspired at an early age by his grandmother. Much of his legacy in this department is in presenting images of sexual empowerment, most notably with Madonna. The equestrian dominatrix look on display that he designed for her 2006 “Blond Ambition” tour cannot be missed. He revived the cone bra and designed haute riffs on fetish wear for men and women that helped inspire the neo-burlesque craze.
In the skin deep area you are taken into a red light room featuring garments inspired by bondage, body art, nudity and seduction. A creepy narcissist is talking to his mirror image. With prints of flayed or tattooed bodies, Gaultier explores the possibilities of trompe l’oeil. His fascination with skin feeds his imagination to create fetishistic designs. Leather, whips and chains, latex…well you know the deal.
Yesterday I already showed you part of the Punk Cancan area which is where London punk meets Parisian couture. The Parisian haute couture collection was my favourite and I like to save the best for last. I was so impressed by the details, the elegance, the tailoring. Pay attention to the many beads, gemstones, or buttons(!).
Visit the exhibition: www.kunsthal.nl – opening hours Tue-Sat 10-17 hrs, Sun- and holidays 11-17 hrs – info 010-4400301
Are you interested in learning more about Jean Paul Gautier? Watch this documentary by the French director Loïc Prigent: The Day Before. The documentary aired on Dutch television (English and Dutch) and follows the celebrated designer the day before his big haute couture showing. Click here to watch.