De Young Celebrates Designer Jean Paul Gaultier
Jean Paul Gaultier is no novice when it comes to fashion. He was the creative director of Hermès for seven years, has been showcasing his own designs for 36 years, and has been a long–time designer for Madonna’s infamously daring stage costumes. He has also dabbled in perfume, having released top–selling fragrances to the public.
From March 24 to August 19, Jean Paul Gaultier’s stunning, daring, and avant–garde clothing will grace the Bay Area in an exhibit at the de Young museum. His exhibition, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” has attracted hundreds of people from a multitude of backgrounds. According to the de Young Museum, “The openly gay Gaultier uses his designs to tackle gender and transgender issues through androgynous, gender–bending styles, meanwhile delving even further into some of the darker areas of the sexual revolution.”
Gaultier’s message is clearly seen from the moment one turns the corner and walks into the exhibition.
While a museum staffer scanned tickets at the entrance of the exhibition, five life–sized prints with models wearing Gaultier’s designs grabbed guests’ eyes as the models stare straight into the left wall. Their gaze landed on dozens of lines that stretch and fill the entire left wall: designs from haute couture and prêt-à-porter are printed in a sleek font with the season, title, and date of the piece.
Turning the corner, a deep blue light flooded the hallway, pulling people into the first of the seven rooms used for the exhibition. The color seemed to emanate from within the back wall, illuminating a dozen or so mannequin models decked out in extravagant clothes. Toward the entrance of the room, a classified ad placed by famous designer Gaultier against the right wall in letters the size of a hand reads: “Non–conformist designer seeks unusual models — the conventionally pretty need not apply.”
Excited chattering could be heard upon entering the first room, which emanated from models featured in the exhibition rather than the viewers themseleves. Gaultier’s face, along with 29 others throughout the exhibit, are projected onto the mannequins’ faces, bringing them to life. All of the models in the first room have a projection; some of them simply stare into the distance while others, such as the collection of sailor men dressed in midriff revealing tops, stared across into the audience, smirking and giggling slyly every now and then.
In the center of the first room, a design named “Immaclata” encased a model in a crocheted lace dress, headdress, and mask. She and a collection of others stood in two rows, singing a sort of soothing opera. On the left was Gaultier’s Mermaid Collection, showcased by three mannequins — two of whom were standing together in the first room while the third lay on a raised platform located towards the second room as glistening water was projected on the wall behind her. The mermaids’ silk and metallic scales refracted the light while their faces stared blankly into the room. Suddenly, after minutes of silence, the mermaids began to sing a captivating song; each model had a different role in the enchantment.
The second room was equally as captivating as the first. A circular, plush, red sofa was placed in the center of the smaller second room while twelve televisions scattered across the main wall. Each screen showed clips of previous fashion shows with models strutting down the catwalk wearing the beautiful clothes Gaultier designed. At the end of one of the shows, Gaultier runs out onto the catwalk accompanied by a woman who trips full–on and lands on the floor. Gaultier helps her up and they both laugh and hug, showing the audience that Gaultier isn’t a strict, bourgeois fashionisto, but an easygoing, creative mastermind who loves and cares about what he does.
Next comes the corset room. A lone model with a shockingly real, youthful face stands in the center of the room. Her brunette hair is put up in a tall messy bun. She seemed to be speaking to herself — first in English, then in French — questioning who she is and whether she should speak because she might be alone. Many viewers were absorbed by the model’s monologue, occaisionally neglecting to notice the faceless model with a corset dress and maxi–length train standing peacefully in the corner. In contrast, a print of a rowdy woman wearing the corset dress, holding a whip, and mounting a naked man as a policeman cuffs a half–naked woman to the side of the pair, is displayed beside the model.
The most noticeable object in the room, however, is neither the talking model nor the sexually–charged print, but a large cube composed of soft, pink, cotton with a texture similar to that of a mattress. Set inside each wall are corset–related displays, including two corsets actually worn by Madonna, one of Gautier’s main collaborators. The cube also features a photograph of Gaultier and Madonna resting between the two corsets. Upon leaving the room, one is presented with the opportunity to stop and read a board describing a part of Gaultier’s life. Near the top of the board was a quote: “The first fetish I did was the corset. This was because of my grandmother.”
Two neon–red beams streaked across the back wall of the fourth room. Atop a steel–frame, double–platform structure stood models in shocking positions in front of the red lights, setting a steamy, fierce mood within the room. One of the models standing on the mirrored floors of the metal structure was completely clad in black, wearing shoes that appeared to be a fusion of stiletto heels and soccer cleats. Her top had three risque zippers, one on either side from chest to hipbone and another at mid-chest. Fishnet material nearly covered her entire body.
In the right corner close to the fourth room’s entrance, a man wearing the anomolous clothing so typical of Gaultier peers into a mirror and talks to his reflection, which in turn talks back to him. Many of the viewers seemed to have forgotten the man was only a mannequin with projected images. Every aspect was realistic and interactive, causing the exhibition to become a living entity.
The final room, dubbed “Metropolis,” explains how Gaultier’s fashion became intertwined with movies. A large wall dominated the room and acted as a movie screen, playing clips from movies that feature Gaultier’s pieces. One of the most recognizable scenes came from The Fifth Element, starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman. Rimming the mini–theater were other fashion designs that have been shown in the media, like the Divers Collection that turned diving gear into chic clothing and the Cages Collection that transformed a person into a bird breaking free.
Hundreds peeked behind the movie–screen wall and were surprised to see the gift store, which marked the end of the exhibit. They walked out into the light dazed and amazed.
Each room in Gaultier’s exhibition contained a different theme and told a different part of his life–story. Not only is Gaultier’s exhibition radical and exciting, but also extremely educational, presenting the public with a new perspective on fashion.