ZE GENTLE-MALE: JEAN PAUL GAULTIER RETROSPECTIVE AT THE BARBICAN



 
“I must be honest and say I didn’t want to do an exhibition at first. I thought that exhibitions were for those who are dead. And I am very much alive.”

– Jean Paul Gaultier –


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Having grown up in France as a teenager in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jean Paul Gaultier was omnipresent in the media and soon become a household name. Then at the apex of his career with the iconic conical bra and corsets Madonna wore during her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, sailor apparel (A-Gent of Style now regrets disposing of his collection of Breton T-shirts), bewitching adverts for Classique (A-Gent‘s sister has solely worn this perfume since its inception two decades ago now) and later Le Mâle (A-Gent spent a lot of his pocket money on its fantastical limited editions bottles) through to the phenomenon that was Eurotrash when he moved to London in 1997, the enfant terrible of fashion has been on A-Gent of Style‘s cultural radar even since and somewhat made a lasting impression on his life with his unbridled creativity, imagination, theatricality, originality and of course humour (his French accent in English is also rather incomparable).


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Forward to last Wednesday and The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier:
From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk
opened at the Barbican, the first major exhibition devoted to the celebrated French couturier in the UK. Dubbed fashion’s enfant terrible by the press from the time of his first catwalk shows in the 1970s, Jean Paul Gaultier is arguably one of the most important fashion designers of recent decades. This phenomenal world tour to eight cities and theatrical installation of around 165 cutting-edge couture and ready-to-wear garments – more than one million visitors in North America and Europe have already seen it – explores Gaultier’s fashion world, from his witty and boundary-pushing designs to his ceaseless interest in society, identity, a beauty borne of difference (“Perfection is relative and beauty is subjective”) and the timelessness of his creations (none of them stuck in a particular era or time capsule).

Jean Paul Gaultier said : “I am super excited that the show is coming to London for two reasons. The first reason is that I always want to go to London, because London, for me, is a special place. In England I’ve got so many memories and I’ve had so many experiences and the English were the first ones to come to my shows and appreciate my fashion. If there is one place other than Paris that I should like to live in, it is London. I’ve got so many connections with London and feel at home there, even sometimes more than Paris. I like the spirit, the humour and little adventures that were funny, like Eurotrash. The second thing is the Barbican. It’s an honour for me because it’s a wonderful gallery and a wonderful place with extraordinary architecture and I think that showing my work there will be beautiful.”

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Celebrating the designer’s daring inventiveness, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk traces the influences that have marked Gaultier’s creative development from the streets of Paris to the DIY aesthetic of punk or fantasies of science fiction. It includes eight thematic sections; The Odyssey of Jean Paul Gaultier, Punk Cancan, Muses, The Boudoir, Metropolis, Eurotrash, Skin Deep and Urban Jungle. The exhibition also features a wealth of photography by collaborators such as Miles Aldridge, David LaChapelle, Peter Lindbergh, Pierre et Gilles, Herb Ritts, Stéphane Sednaoui, Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol as well as footage of catwalk presentations, concerts, music videos, films and dance performances. Other highlights include the Spitting Image puppet of Jean Paul Gaultier, on show for the first time in a UK gallery and dramatic metre-high Mohawk head pieces especially created by renowned hair stylist Odile Gilbert .

Designed as an installation rather than a conventional fashion retrospective,
this theatrically staged exhibition in a city at the heart of Gaultier’s creativity promises (and delivers) to be “bigger and better than ever”. It presents pieces created between 1970 and now, many of which are on show in Britain for the first time. The influence of and passion for British street culture that played on Gaultier’s life and consequently his creations are both tangible here (the maestro of camp and vamp has been coming to the UK for decades). It features over 30 custom-made mannequins wearing remarkable wigs and headdresses by Odile Gilbert that come alive, thanks to video projection, with interactive faces, surprising visitors with their lifelike presence (some smile, wink, speak or even sing!). Pure genius.

 

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Last Tuesday before the opening to the general public, A-Gent of Style was privileged to spend the entire day and evening for the media preview courtesy of both Catherine Ince, curator at the Barbican (whom A-Gent interviewed last December at the Sleep event for the Pop Art exhibition she co-curated) and Roche Bobois (see his feature on their Jean Cocteau collection here) delving for hours into Gaultier’s fascinating and unique world. The packed programme was a delectable series of events spread across the day which comprised a morning talk between the curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Jean Paul Gaultier himself (which you can view partly on Youtube here), an official photocall, the opening of the exhibition, a refreshment break mid-afternoon with limited edition éclairs by French bakery Paul customised with edible French Breton stripes, a fascinating fragrance symposium with genius French nose Francis Kurkdjian who created Le Male aftershave, Harper’s Bazaar’s Jo Glynn-Smith in her incredibly glamourous Prince of Wales suit, the curator and Jean Paul Gaultier himself who surprised the audience by gracing us with his presence in the last twenty minutes, a pause at the Bar Gaultier specially created for the show offering fashion-inspired cocktails (A-Gent of Style sampled a Oh la la, for the sake of research only, of course) and surrounded by sponsor Roche Bobois furniture from the inventive and playful new Gaultier collection, and finally a private view in the evening with a speech from the tireless Gaultier.



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A-Gent of Style was in awe of the couturier all day and felt very privileged to not only be part of this exciting event and to discover the incredible wealth of the couturier’s career now spanning three decades but also to meet a delightful, generous, charming, warm, naughty, witty, hilarious, humble, down-to-earth, self-deprecating man with an enviable and relentless positive energy.

So come and enter now with A-Gent of StyleFrom ze Sidewalk to ze Catwalk’,mes petits filous”:


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– All photos by A-Gent of Style





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