The show opens with a large room full of mannequins who all talk and watch the museum goers... Gaultier partnered with Ubu Compagnie de Création, a Montreal-based theater company, to create the stunning, disorienting, and slightly creepy effect. High def film of the model's face is projected onto the head, allowing them to blink, talk, sing, laugh, wink, and look around. Presiding over them all is Gaultier himself (below, right), welcoming patrons to the exhibit, and chatting everyone up with his charming, rapid French-accented patter.
This first room is a mix of Gaultier's classic sailor stripe creations and pieces that are based on Catholic iconography and mythology. Many ensembles featured tin milagros (votive offerings to saints) and were topped off with halos or plexiglass, beads, and gems.
Gaultier's obsession with women's undergarments such as corsets and bras is explored through his many pieces including a corset for a mermaid adorned with shells, pearls, and gold barnacles, Madonna's corset from her Blond Ambition World Tour and "Express Yourself" video, and, sweetly, Gaultier's childhood Teddy Bear who was the recipient of his very first cone bra (above)!
This mannequin faced himself in a mirror and had a psychologically revealing conversation with his reflection. His unremarkable and traditionally masculine shirt and tie are covered with a feather and bead trimmed corset and a wrap with a train. I really loved these pointy-toed transparent shoes with a rhinestone-studded mesh on top. Wow...
This jaw dropping gown is actually all beaded. You can see the mind boggling detail in the face and especially the claws of the cat. It was truly breath-taking.
Gaultier's attraction to zoomorphic figures is extensively shown in the show. Here is a jacket that transforms the wearer into an exotic jungle bird and a pair of gorgeous, wildly feathered boots.
Even more than zoomorphic figures, Gaultier adores exotic foreign cultures. This heavily beaded dress is a fantastic take on traditional Russian or Eastern European peasant clothing.
From Eastern Europe and Russia, we hop over to Tibet in these fascinating outfits. The photos don't show the level of intrigue one feels while standing before such garments. Every inch is exquisitely embellished with soutache (like the grey hoodie and sweat pants that are transformed into a Nepalese costume), embroidery and beads.
Gaultier was also inspired, as were many designers, by the Punk movement. When he crossed the channel to visit London, he was entranced with the work Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were doing. His punk influenced pieces certainly feel as if they are encroaching into Westwood territory. But they do have a certain undefinable Gaultier-ness about them that keeps them from being copies...
Jean Paul Gaultier has designed costumes for many films over the years and I was delighted to see a piece from one of my favorite sci-fi films, "The Fifth Element." I was disappointed that there was only one piece representing the film (I would have liked to see the orange strap suit that Mila Jovovich wore or the odd clear asymmetrical skull cap worn by Gary Oldman), but it made me smile that it was the leopard jumpsuit worn by Chris Tucker as the outrageous Ruby Rod!
All photos JEF--bottom photo by C. Kolumbus