GAULTIER IN ALL GLORYMonday, July 09, 2012
“The idea is more important the material used to translate it,” said Jean Paul Gaultier. That’s one of the dozen provocative quotes by the path- breaking French designer that greet you inside the exhibit bathed in blue and wine lighting at San Francisco’s de Young museum. I had hopped off the Hop On-Hop Off Sightseeing bus to watch the San Francscio Academy of Sciences across the street but Gaultier’s name flashed her beckoned me to run to it first. ‘From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,’ said a board. Could I miss it? No, the husband gives me the camera and waits outside while I prowl this jungle of wild thoughts and wilder clothing. There are many around me, it is a crowded space, and I realise the seductive space inside attracts the non-fashion explorer because it merges gender, class, status and ethnic backgrounds—that’s how we are when we are born, blank, mad, drunk or natural. Too much? No. Read on.
Trained under the legendary Pierre Cardin, Jean Paul Gaultier, also known to the “not so interested in fashion” as the designer who dressed up Madonna for her Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990 (remember the conical bra?) and then her Confessions tour in the 2000s, has been represented here in a stark language. Most recently Monsieur Gaultier--who has also designer for French saddler brand Hermes--was on the Jury for the Cannes International Film Festival 2012. Animated mannequins (among them one of Gaultier himself, interpreted from a 1990 photograph of his) and still dress forms wearing sexy, erotic clothing, chromogenic prints with acrylic bonding and printed photographs dot the exhibit area.
Female mannequins are dressed in a way that ensues when you are between erotic urgency and a consistent idea of the self as sexy. Male mannequins are dressed absolutely androgynously, stunning in their studied nonchalance. Within a few minutes of walking around, I realise there is more erotic energy here interpreted through fashion than a scattered sexual movement would convey. While the animated mannequin that looks like Gaultier himself wearing androgynous clothing tells you why “nothing should be overlooked (in fashion) and everything is possible”, what attracts me is a bridal couture gown put on a mannequin carrying laced crutches! You got that right, crutches carried by a bride! Deeper into the exhibition, wooden chests of drawers with bras peeping out (captioned integrated vanity boxes), male mannequins wearing lacy pants and long skirts, the woman as dominatrix, chains and whips, and a stunning leopard print gown with real rhinestones sewn on as claws encircle and embrace you into Gaultier’s prime argument: androgyny. The corset style bodysuit worn by Madonna during her 1990s Blond Ambition World Tour (wearing which she sang the unforgettable Like A Virgin) and other sexy garments all worn by the Material Girl are all on display. There is a catwalk in progress on one end; the spotlight shifting mesmerizingly to pull you into a story that’s being told. Fashion student, devotee or curious intruder, you know that Gaultier means business when he pulls down boundaries between the sexes and multicultural societies. “Except the medieval codpiece and the bra, garments have never had a gender.” That’s one of the other quotes.
I come out unable to distract myself from the turbulence this exhibition has caused in my head. It has nothing to do with the clothes or the collections: it is about the counter culture that fashion instigates in the world that we could, if we want, open our eyes to.
A model walks the ramp in a Rimzim Dadu design during the WIFW 2012. Indian Express photo: Oinam Anand