After traveling through nine cities including Montréal, San Francisco, Rotterdam, Brooklyn, and London, the Jean Paul Gaultier Exhibit has put its roots down in Gaultier’s hometown: Paris. Spanning through the Grand Palais, the exhibit pays homage to the designer’s muses, personal ambition, innovation and boundary pushing designs. Gaultier, also nicknamed the “enfant terrible” of fashion, has had a profound impact not only on his industry, but also on social issues including gender roles, LGBT acceptance and female empowerment.
Start with his sailor-inspired collection that featured low slung, blue sequin pants and a tight fitting white tank top. It should be noted that this was a menswear collection. The fabulously glittery pants and skin baring crop top questioned the idea that menswear has to be baggy, sober, and generally what we consider to be manly. It pushes people to expand their perception of gender roles, and to think of sequin pants as legitimate menswear. To Gaultier, gender did not define a person, and therefore gender should not define fashion.
His work with corsetry also pushed social standards. Instead of viewing the corset as a garment that binds women and limits them, he transformed it into a garment that liberates them. In Gaultier’s eyes, a corset can make a woman beautiful, and portrays them as the sexual beings they are- a trait historically given to men and seen as taboo for females. Most notably, his work with Madonna and her iconic corset for the 1990 Blonde Ambition tour revolutionized female sexuality and the concept of the corset. The garment Gaultier created for Madonna was a corset style bodysuit constructed of pink Duchess satin with lots of textures and garters. Madonna commented on the bodysuit saying that since she wears is as clothing, not as an undergarment, it is a statement and an expression, not a tool for body manipulation and oppression.
The finale of the exhibit featured a lineup of wedding dresses, but done in only a way Gaultier could. Instead of picturing a bride as a woman being given away by her father to her new husband, Gaultier’s bride is a warrior princess, a chief even. She has military- esque shoulders and a Native American inspired feather headdress. Her medallions of honor hang from one breast while the other is completely bare, framed by various chains and strands of beads hanging around it. This bride is in the position of power- a strong, dominant female. Far from dainty, the wedding gown is an incredible expression of the power of women. But of course the dress is white- it’s still the warrior chief’s wedding day after all.
While it is hard to picture Gaultier’s fashion on the sidewalk, the exhibit made it clear that ready to wear clothing was not Gaultier’s fashion mission. His garments are works of art, used to question social standards or to shock the public into a new way of thinking. He goes beyond the fundamental use of clothing and transforms his garments into vehicles for discussion. Gaultier exemplifies the expression, “fashion is not just fashion.”
Fashion and PR Major
Exploring Fashion in London & Paris Dialogue, Summer 1