A Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition of 165 cutting-edge couture and ready-to-wear garments takes place at the Barbican this summer, celebrating the remarkable couturier and hisfashion riot of visual wizardry and aural colour.
A few steps into the theatrically staged exhibition displaying over 165 ensembles from 1970-2014, we are greeted by a charming silver haired French man. He's dressed in a knee length tartan kilt and heavy black leather boots, "Hello, and welcome to my show! I'm so happy to be in London" he exclaims, smiling. At the Barbican exhibition 'The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk', you can (almost) meet the man himself! In the atmospheric softly lit purple light of the start of this exhibition stands a mannequin, with Gaultier's talking, smiling face projected onto the head of this human sized replica of the fashion rebel dubbed the 'enfant terrible' by the press in the 1970's.
The mannequins displaying the boundary pushing, avant-garde garments designed by Gaultier, are almost as fascinating and beautiful as the clothing itself. Using video projection, the mannequins are brought to life with expressive moving faces. They appear to smile, blink, talk to the people visiting the exhibition (in English and French!), observe silence, and sometimes break into song. Their differing personalities embrace Gaultier's
interest in society, identity, and genuine love of life in a witty and playful way, bringing the garments to life.
The vast array of dazzling apparel ranges from the 2007 'Virgins' collection, which is displayed on a choir of angelic singing mannequins, with flowing hair, dressed in religious inspired glittering robes and halos, to the Punk Cancan muses, which feature an army of tartan clad mannequins sporting huge mow-hawks, who periodically wolf whistle at you and may even tell you how fabulous you look - if you're lucky!
The focal point of the first floor is a brightly lit conveyor belt style catwalk, with 12 mannequin models dressed in an array of Gaultier's finest designs. The full body catsuit with a face hood in dogtooth print was probably our favourite, and there are even chairs lined up so you can sit down and watch the show like a true fashion critic!
The exhibition devotes much space to Gaultier's muses, including Madonna, Grace Jones, Boy George and Beth Ditto: iconic figures who all pushed fashion boundaries when wearing Gaultier's daring garments, challenging society's traditional concepts of sexuality, gender and beauty. From the famous conical bra to corsets for men, Gaultier's interest in androgyny and combination of typically masculine and feminine elements of fashion was truly groundbreaking in its time. The egality of sex and freedom to express yourself through fashion is a clear message which runs through the exhibition. He also deliberately selected models of all races, body shapes and genders; including bald, pierced and tattooed men and women before such diversity was mainstream.
The exhibition takes a kinky twist in one section upstairs as the mood is transformed by atmospheric red lighting, in theme with an array of more risque designs inspired by bondage and SM... no more so portrayed than by one female mannequin in a latex catsuit, brandishing a riding crop, towering over a blindfolded male mannequin dressed in fetish style studded leather harness and fishnets - many of the outfits easily wearable to any number of kink events in London (should one be so lucky!)
The exhibition is a riot of colour and sound, bursting with Gaultier's passion for life, fascination in gender identity, and celebration of unconventional beauty.
We left inspired and exhilarated, and with a few fashion ideas.