Over the last five years, San Francisco’s de Young Museum has become an essential stop for both local and visiting fashionistas alike. Their ascension in fashion has been largely fueled by the passions of John E. Buchanan, Jr., the late director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, FAMSF curator of costume and textile arts, Jill D’Alessandro, and the success of their recent exhibitions on the collections of fashion designers Vivienne Westwood, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent. The de Young has now cemented its relationship within the fashion world — and their current exhibit on Jean-Paul Gaultier is one of their finest yet.
The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier – From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk highlights the Paris-based designer’s innovative collections from his first runway shows in the 1970s through 2011. Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and Thierry-Maxime Loriot, the originating curator worked directly with Gaultier to carefully select approximately 140 ensembles spanning over 35 years from the designer’s couture and ready-to-wear collections, along with their accessories, and archival documents. Many of these extraordinary pieces are being exhibited for the very first time. The exhibition begins with a spectacular mise en scène comprised of fascinating mannequins with projected moving faces that seem to be speaking directly to the viewer and often break into song. This first segment features Gaultier signatures such as head-to-toe outfits in blue and white sailor stripes, mythical mermaids in cone bras, and couture-clad virgins in exquisite textiles with such ornate beading, embroidery and headdresses, they are downright decadent.
Further along one encounters Gaultier furniture, which can still be purchased at Roche Bobois stores – the designer’s childhood Teddy Bear replete with the first prototype of a cone bra and of course — that ubiquitous Madonna corset that has become ingrained into fashion history and pop culture. A large pink, tufted, satin cube houses various incarnations of men’s and women’s lingerie-inspired garments and perfume bottles which call attention not only to another Gaultier staple — through said lingerie looks but also, to those familiar with Gaultier boutiques, it will come as a happy reminder of the sumptuous dressing rooms. Immediately transporting you to an intimate boudoir, my personal experience of a Gaultier dressing room has been both splendid and confusing — as one is often unable to decipher which part of the cube conceals the door handle, resulting in the need for assistance when exiting!
Comprised of six different thematic sections, the de Young’s multimedia exhibition on Gaultier incorporates runways shows, sketches, stage costumes, footage of concerts and videos, as well as world-class photography from top shooters and artists such as Pierre et Gilles, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Steven Klein, Miles Aldridge and Mert Alas & Marcus Piggot among others. Although this exhibition is not a retrospective, it underscores the monumental effect Gaultier’s work has had — and continues to have — on the international fashion stage and by extension, popular culture. The trend of men in skirts — that took Paris and New York men’s wear designers by storm a couple of years ago — and has been adopted into Marc Jacobs personal wardrobe … it was Gaultier who championed it back in the spring of 1985 and continues to reprise it in his menswear; leggings for men — a Gaultier staple. Punk references are now routine in high fashion but it was Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood who led the way years prior. In addition, many designers have also played with androgynous references and overt sexuality — and while many women’s collections have achieved great success with such looks (Versace in the early 1990s, Givenchy now, Dolce e Gabbana quite often, etc.) — when it comes to menswear on an international scale, it can be argued that Gaultier was truly the pioneer.
Madonna might be Gaultier’s most high profile collaborator yet the designer has explored various aspects of his all-embracing global vision with a host of entertainers. These include dance floor diva, Kylie Minogue, contemporary dancers Angelin Preljocaj, Régine Chopinot and Maurice Béjart and some of his most intriguing work has also materialized in films with noted directors such as Pedro Almodóvar, Peter Greenaway, Luc Besson, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. These bold and sometimes controversial costumes are also on display — mostly in sketches, photos and video screens which can be viewed at leisure in special seating areas.
There are many more designers working today than when Gaultier began his career — yet at sixty years-old, he remains one of the most creative, diverse and provocative designers of our time. And although his references sometimes come from social taboos such as sadomasochism, with Gaultier at the helm, his creations emerge tastefully alluring, full of life, humor and beauty. Magnificently showcased at the de Young’s not-to-be-missed exhibition, Jean-Paul Gaultier is not only one of the most important designers of the last forty years, the sense of continuity and optimism that always shines through his work also renders him a beacon of light. -Victor Vargas, editor-in-chief
The de Young Museum through August 19, 2012
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive San Francisco, CA 94118
Visit the official site of Jean-Paul Gaultier