The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier at The Barbican

by Katie on April 8, 2014

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The Jean Paul Gaultier Exhibition, now in its 8th part of its World Tour, just has to be seen.

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It is, quite simply, a joy and a lesson to future designers on maintaining one’s relevance as well as one’s sense of humour. Monsieur Gaultier isn’t slack on either. The Enfant Terrible of fashion is now 61 and as upbeat and funny with his finger-on-the-pulse as he’s ever been. And, with his ‘Classique’ fragrance in its 20th year and a new incarnation developed by perfumer, Francis Kurkdjian, about to be released, a whole new audience of Gaultierphiles will be born.

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The ‘Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier – From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ begins by charting JPG’s influences (his grandmother, his mother, the strictness of the corset and his teddy bear (defaced)). From the off, Gaultier has always cocked a snoop at Parisian style with London Punk insouciance, which is ironic as he’s also been the source for much of its renaissance, especially couture.

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The exhibition features 165 show-stoppingly audacious couture and ready-to-wear garments and explores Gaultier’s universe.

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Kicking off with an homage to the nautical stripes he’s so well known for, the exhibition veers onto punk, film and stage tour costumes (hello Madonna and Kylie) and there’s outfit after outfit of catwalk show one-offs as worn by Naomi Campbell, Karen Elson, Kate Moss and Erin O’Connor as well as red carpet gowns. Then, there’s the slew of photography from the likes of Miles Aldridge, David LaChapelle, Peter Lindbergh, Pierre et Gilles and Herb Ritts.

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The exhibition is testimony to Gaultier’s influence and boundary pushing, his constant play with the inverse of traditional masculine and feminine roles and his love of fantasy and seduction. There’s a whole lot of humour and history in there, from his 1980s pop video  where he hammed it up to fashion max in ‘Aow Tou Dou Zat’ (Anna dello Russo eat your heart out, sister), to his appearances in ‘Eurotrash’ and his bondage outfits that created a big pow wow when shown as part of a (then) stuffy Paris Fashion Week.

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The impression is of a man who knows how to have fun and enjoys every second of his life. (Compare and contrast with other designers, readers). Warm, endearing, charming, witty and unforgettable, Gaultier is a living breathing testimony to the spectacle that is his work.

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The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier – From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is at The Barbican Art Gallery, London (9th April-25th August 2014). www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery Ticket prices £7.25-£14.50.

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