As far as museum fashion exhibits go, this summer belonged to Alexander McQueen at the Met. But while I was in Canada I was able to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and was completely blown away. It will be traveling to Dallas in November and San Francisco in March of 2012. Run, don't walk.
I was struck by how much of McQueen's collections seemed referential to Gaultier's. Makes sense since Gaultier too was once dubbed fashion’s enfant terrible. He launched his first prêt-à-porter collection way back in 1976. Andy Warhol was among his earliest fans, saying: "I think the way people dress today is a form of artistic expression...Art lies in the way the whole outfit is put together. Take Jean Paul Gaultier. What he does is really art." His work like McQueen's is intellectual, sexually charged, vaguely macabre and often futuristic. It has a point of view. It is art.
The staging of the Gaultier exhibit was equally stunning to McQueen at the Met---room after glorious room of exquisite clothing that you can peep up close and personal. But the Gaultier show had one theatrical advantage: there were 30 animated mannequins who talk and sing in poetic vignettes kinda like that creepy hologram at the end of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. The faces change expressions and their line of sight randomly shifts down to your eye level so it felt like they were talking to you. OMG, they creeped me out. As a lapsed Catholic, the mannequins in religious, madonna garb were particularly disturbing.
As a fan of Madonna the whore, the exhibit is a dream. There were all her amazing Gaultier tour costumes (remember when I made my own version for a Madonna costume party!!???) Among the iconic garments, there are these great stories about the women that influenced Gaultier growing up and even the first corset he designed...for his teddy bear.
Gaultier has always used designs to tackle gender and transgender issues through provocative, gender-bending styles. But I think he may not get as much credit as he deserves because he doesn't seem like a particularly serious character. Everything he does has a tongue-in-cheek quality. There's something farcical about it so it's somehow not as threatening. Very Parisian.
Gaultier's love of stripes is also tres French. He says: "I've always loved the graphic and architectural aspects of stripes. My mother dressed me in sailor-striped sweaters. They go with everything, never go out of style and probably never will. There were also other influences: my grandmother, Coco Chanel, Jean Genet, Popeye..." Loooved that there were stripes galore in the gift shop to buy.
Alas I saved my pennies and made due with the free sailor hat everyone got with their exhibit tickets. Made Mr. Diabolina wear one for a picture. He hated every minute of it.
To be even more annoying, I put it back on when we got to the Canadian/American border later that afternoon. Border guy didn't bat an eye. F.
I wish I had had this Gaultier fabulousness to freak him out instead