There is nothing quite so thrilling as to see the work of a fashion designer so close you can touch it! Not recommended however, when it's part of a museum exhibit. Through the years, I have had the privilege to view high profile fashion exhibitions from the likes of Valentino, Vivienne Westwood, and Yves Saint Laurent. Most recently , I attended "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk" at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
It's really cool to take in a show with another fashion fanatic, and this time it was my friend Patti Baron, who got up early on a Sunday morning to make the trek to view fashion's "L'Enfant Terrible." Patti and I have been friends for years and when it comes to an event or an art museum we dress to impress, if for no one else but ourselves. We also find that we dress in tandem without calling ahead. For this fashion pilgrimage, we both showed up in faux leather bomber jackets with studs and stones. Patti wore hers over a long skirt with matching studded boots, while my ensemble included a midi dress, sequined chained handbag and a gold hat.
How a show is curated makes a significant difference in telling a designer’s story. This international installation is the first for the celebrated French couturier, and unlike any I have ever seen before. It features talking and singing mannequins (similar to the talking faces in Disneyland's Haunted House), blaring music, bright neon and a moving runway of mannequins with Gaultier designs from the past 35 years.
The idea of having the mannequins speak came to Gualtier after seeing a performance in Avignon, France, that projected real faces onto blank figures. Montreal-based theater company Ubu Compagnie de Création worked with the designer to create the animated mannequins, including the designer himself, dressed in his signature French mariner navy and cream striped shirt. He welcomed each guest with French-accented chit-chat about himself and his work, laughing and blinking as if he were real. Certain aspects of the animation were lifelike to the point of being creepy.
The cone bra was a focal point of the show, with Madonna's corseted version from her "Blond Ambition” tour. We discovered that the first cone bra was created by Gaultier for his teddy bear Nana when he was a child. Gaultier has dressed many a diva besides Madonna. His muses include Kylie Minogue, Grace Jones, burlesque artist Dita Von Teese and actress Catherine Deneuve. His career is full of extremes from his first job with Pierre Cardin and as design director for Hermes in the 1990's. He founded his couture house in 1997, and this 140 piece collection conveys the designer's sense of humor and groundbreaking designs that transcend gender identification, religion and traditional Western dress. He took designs from the sidewalks and streets of Paris and London and put men in skirts and women in street-wear bustiers.
We were thrilled to see leather bomber jackets in the exhibit, including one that had the same studs that embellished Patti's jacket and boots. The closest I have come to owning something from this provocative designer was his corseted-bottle fragrance, which is now a reminder of the bad boy of fashion and a Sunday morning shared with a chic best friend.
"The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk" runs through August 19, 2012. M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, deyoung.famsf.org.