Jean Paul Gaultier
March 24, 2012 - August 19, 2012
de Young, San Francisco
“Elegance is a question of personality, more than one's clothing”
----Jean Paul Gaultier
Dior defined elegance with its knee length skirts; Chanel defined elegance with its little black jacket; Yves Saint Laurent defined elegance with his Mondrian dress; Jean Paul Gaultier, however, pulls elegance off the altar of fashion, cuts it into pieces, mixes it with provocative sexual and religious motifs, weaves it into multicultural elements, and throws it back to the runway. His elegance is never meant to be judged with “right” or “wrong”; it always wanders on the border where all the definitions of beauty, dictated by the society, gather, fuse and reborn. This Spring, with more than 140 haute couture and prêt-à-porter designs, as well as numerous sketches, photographs and video clips, Jean Paul Gaultier, the enfant terrible in the industry, drops his explosive vision of fashion in the Herbst Gallery of the de Young Museum in San Francisco. This exhibition encompasses Gaultier’s collection from 1970s to 2010, from the very beginning of his career as an apprentice, his collaboration with Hermès, and the grand opening of his own couture house.
In order to fully display the dynamism in Gaultier’s work, de Young utilizes more than thirty over life-size animated mannequins who can talk, sing and joke with the audience. These mannequins, situated on a high platform, is highly personalized with different facial features and physiognomy. The projectors above their heads cast individualized animated facial expressions and movement on their faces, giving them moving lips and shifting eyes, turning them into lively models who are about to step on the runway. There is even a mannequin for Jean Paul Gaultier himself, casually chatting with the audience in English with a thick French accent. These mannequins display some of his most prestigious designs, including his stripped sweater, lace bondage, Virgin Mary’s crown, and transparent stockings with imprints. Across from the platform, enlarged fashion photographs with famous models, like Kate Moss, donned with Gaultier’s collection, line up neatly on the wall, leading the audience to the next exhibition room where a miniature runway is built. Several mannequins are rotating slowly on the runway, against the background of a huge screen streaming Gaultier’s fashion show in Paris.
Surrounding the runway is another set of his famous design, men in dresses. Openly gay, Gaultier redefine “gender” in his androgynous design of dress and kilts for men. He encourages his male models to put on long kilts with vibrant colors and complex pattern and sashay down the runway. For him, the definition of gender is like a piece of clothe that people wear just to hide themselves. Under that concept, everyone is made up with the same flesh and bones. This idea is further explored through his “body suit,” a tight over-all with patterns of human muscle structure, blood veins and major organs, revealing human anatomy. Under the dim light of the gallery, these body suits create an eerie atmosphere that sends a chill to the audience.
Apart from blending gender differences through his design, Jean Paul Gaultier also brings pop culture and street art into his work. His corset and cone bra are made immortal by Madonna who filled her wardrobe with Gaultier’s design during her Blonde Ambition tour. This cone bra is imitated and rendered in so many different renditions that its influence is still prominent among current pop stars. From Lady Gaga who lit her cone bra on fire in her concert, to the limited edition Coca Cola bottle donned in a lacy cone bra, Gaultier’s provocative geniuses inspire generations of artists and become an irreplaceable element in pop culture.
The Woman Behind the Cultural Perspectives Section:
Asheley Gao is an extremely creative young woman, currently attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, a long way away from her home country of China. She is double majoring in Political Economy and History of Art. Her interest in life and exuberance is evident, not only in her work as an artist and academic, but also a friend and co-worker.