This exhibit is not some dry retrospective of a dead man’s work. Jean Paul Gaultier wanted to create an art installation of its own merit, and has done exactly that. Inspired by a play he saw at the Avignon Festival which employed trompe l’oeil video projections, Gaultier worked with JoliCoeur Mannequins to create something completely new. He wanted the mannequins to speak, as a statement against what he described as the misogynist view that women should be seen and not heard. Most of the mannequins have video-projected faces with movement as you can see in this video.
Gaultier has been pushing fashion forward since he debuted his first collection in 1976. In the press conference, he often mentioned his love of unusual women, women with personality and character. He did not want to use what he described as robots that everyone else used for models. So he ran a classified ad stating: “Non-conformist designer seeks unusual models–the conventionally pretty need not apply.” In fact, he began designing couture long before that, as a child he made his first cone bra (from newspaper) and wedding gown for his teddy bear, pictured below.
At today’s press conference, Gaultier explained how much his grandmother inspired him, not only because of her fascinating corsets, but also because she gave him freedom to express his creativity. He told of a time when he was in school, sketching what inspired him, as always. He was a shy, lonely child who was shunned by the other boys because he would not play football. Until his teacher discovered him sketching one of the Folies Bergere showgirls he’d seen the night before. As punishment, he was ordered to march throughout the school with the sketch pinned to his back. However, this punishment became a blessing, as all the other boys wanted him to sketch showgirls for them as well. Looking back, he saw that through sketching he could find acceptance.
The exhibit is stunning, as one would expect from one of Paris’s greatest couturiers. What makes it especially interesting is that the more complicated beaded pieces explain the number of hours required to make the garment. Showing Haute Couture in a museum setting where it is possible to see the amount of labor that goes into each garment allow people access to these works of art, hand-crafted by some of the most talented crafstmen and women in the world. Be inspired, and see for yourself.