You might think you’ve never heard of Jean Paul Gaultier, but you most definitely know his work.
The fashion designer was the brains behind Madonna’s cone bra, arguably the most iconic piece of fashion in the 80s.
We now get the chance to see his work up close as the National Gallery of Victoria will be hosting The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk exhibition, which is originally from the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. “In terms of fashion and textiles we’ve never had a show this big [at NGV],” said the co-curator, adding, “When you’re delivering another artist’s work, particularly a living designer’s work, you definitely want to do it justice.”
His international success could be attributed to his enthusiasm for fashion from a young age. Jean Paul Gaultier was born in the spring of 1952, in Val-de-Marne, south east of Paris. Ever since he was a small boy, Gaultier has always been interested in fashion. He spent a lot of his youth with his maternal grandmother, playing in her closet. He showed skills of designing early on, even making a bra for his teddy bear out of newspaper, which later served as inspiration for Madonna’s cone bra.
Gaultier never received formal training in fashion and started out by sending sketches to designers. He was lucky enough to land his first job on his 18th birthday with designer Pierre Cardin, the famous avant-garde Italian designer, in 1970. Nine years later and Gaultier branched out on his own, establishing his own label and holding his first runway show in Paris, and the Jean Paul Gaultier brand was born.
Gaultier’s impact on the fashion world was immediate, his punk designs and edgy styling, such as pairing a leather jacket with a crinoline skirt and sneakers, gave him the reputation as fashion’s bad boy.
In 1983, Gaultier made undergarments a feature with his corset dresses, and two years later displayed his skirts for men, this was another effort to debase gender stereotypes. He never let his runway shows disappoint, and continuously defied expectations through his reputation for his exaggerated spectacles.
Then, in 1990, the cone bra launched and the Gaultier brand rocketed into the fashion stratosphere. Gaultier branched out, with his first perfume hitting shelves in 1993, his couture line in 1997, and he was head designer at leading luxury label Hermes from 2003 until 2011.
Gaultier is also a favourite among celebrities, including, Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman and Marion Cotillard. Kidman wore one of his dresses to the 2003 Academy Awards where she won best actress, and Cotillard wore Gaultier when she accepted her Oscar in 2008. He also created costumes for Kylie Minogue’s 2008-09 X Tour, and for films including, The City of Lost Children (1995), The Fifth Element (1997), Bad Education (2004) and The Skin I Live In (2011).
The French designer announced the discontinuation of his ready-to-wear collection in September, with his last show being on August 27 at Paris Fashion Week. But brand Gaultier is not dead. He has plans to focus on his couture line, fragrance collection and collaborations.
We can see all of this for ourselves from October 17, 2014 until February 8, 2015 at NGV.
Paola Di Trocchio is a co-curator at NGV and is part of the team working on the Gaultier exhibition. Ms Di Trocchio’s role, as part of the exhibition, is to adapt it to the venue and determine how to present it best aesthetically, because the NGV exhibition spaces are different to every other space that the exhibition has been presented in.
In the last couple of weeks, some of Gaultier’s work began to arrive and Ms Di Trocchio helped to unpack the crates, giving her the opportunity to see the works up close.
“Seeing the works up close really reveals how skilled he is, because the works are extraordinary; the mechanics of them, the quality of the materials that he uses, the skill of putting all the different elements together, and seeing them up close allows you to see that, because from afar they’re very theatrical, bold, over the top.”
There will be a section in the exhibition dedicated to Australian muses, which is exclusive to the Australian venue and will appeal to everyone in the country. Talking about its impact on Melbourne, Ms Di Trocchio said, “It’s been interesting because talking to people about this exhibition and this city, they’ve really pointed out how much of a design city Melbourne is, so there is this underlying design culture in Melbourne which I think will make Melbournians particularly responsive and susceptible to something like an amazing fashion design exhibition.”
If you find yourself at the Gaultier exhibition, look out for a dress made from crocodile skin which has been cut into small squares and put together with crochet, like armour; it’s one of Ms Di Trocchio’s favourites. “It’s not just the materials he uses, it’s the way he uses the materials which is really innovative – he uses basic materials in an interesting way,” she explained.
Ms Di Trocchio said his creativity and imagination are evident in the exhibition, and hopes it is inspiring for designers, people, artists and everybody because there’s a lot to learn from it. – Simone Poole
Top photo used with permission from NGV Media.