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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!






The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk


From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, Barbican Art Gallery, Credit Matthew Lloyd-Getty


Barbican Art Gallery


9 April 2014 - 25 August 2014

The first major exhibition of couturier Jean Paul Gaultier, deliciously sets up the idea that there will be more, preferably as he says himself, when he is alive. The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is sensational. Its production, organised by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with Maison Jean Paul Gaultier, redefines the installation concept, offering a surfeit of pleasures.

Mannequins have projected, expressive faces: they speak, smile in disarming fashion; at times, they look straight at you. One gives a rendering of Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ in plaintive, accented voice; while a Breton-striped sailor, whose virtual reality is Gaultier himself, complement a flamboyant, theatrical style.

Humour is the unwritten creed in ‘sidewalk to catwalk’ from the leather-metal chest of drawers, stacked as a set of suitcases to the inclusion of Gaultier’s ‘Spitting Image’ puppet, complete with bovver boots, tartan and punk piercings. Gaultier’s ubiquitous motifs: the Breton stripes, slashes, appliqués or corsets in the prêt-a-porter and couture collections, ‘conceiving a new kind of fashion in both the way it is made and worn,’ shows detail as a labour of love. Close inspection rewards viewing.

For nearly four decades, Jean Paul Gaultier, has out-fashioned fashion design. No one could forget the satin pink corset, pinstripe suit slashed and over-laid, worn by Madonna on her 1990s’ Blonde Ambition Tour; first modelled on his bear, Nana, when he was a boy. While few designers have enjoyed such strong, collaborative relationships with other artists, choreographers and film-makers – his ‘laboratory time’ - or sustained vibrant careers outside the world of haute couture, as he has. 


Photo Matthew Lloyd-Getty

Gaultier’s fascination with culture and sub-cultures from tribal ritual to androgyny is evident throughout. The formative years with Pierre Cardin in the ‘70s, he lives by still: ‘the only important thing is the idea not the material used to translate it.’

Yet the juxtaposition of ideas/material - a crocheted crocodile-skin dress, khaki-style couture or a tartan demi-jacket trench coat as ‘Louise Brooks Meets Easy Rider, 2001 - are compelling in their ingenuity. The visual appeal of suggestive European flesh pots, on the upper floor, against the windows of the couture house or the themed Punk Can-Can, as Mohawks King’s Road-Portobello-Camden style rub against Parisian boulevard, on the lower deck, is both contrived invention and heightened reality. Each space shares its nuggets generously.

And this positive energy is infectious. Gaultier’s gift is to see value and potential in everything. The message, if there is one, is to celebrate diverse-equality in life, in subject, in materials: only the medieval cod-piece and bra can be identified as gender-garments, everything else can be re-defined, re-constituted or re-cycled time and time again.  And boy, does he have fun along the way.

Alongside the visual narratives Wardrobe for Two, 1985, Memories of Buried Paris, 1990 or Bad Girls – G Spot, 2010 is Gaultier’s collaborations with artists, choreographers and film makers; particularly sumptuous are the photographs of the Virgins Collection by Miles Aldridge, Pierre et Gilles and Mario Testino.

‘It is difficult to single out one piece, each one is like a child to me,’ says Gaultier. It is hard for his audience too. ‘Sidewalk to Catwalk’ is for the brave, the audacious and the would-be brave and would-be audacious. Invention, craftsmanship is at the forefront, whether in conceptualising collections or in homage to Grace Jones, Erin O’Connor, Amy Winehouse and Madonna. This travelling show, like an exotic, vibrant caravan cuts a bright distinctive trail across an arid desert - hitch a ride and smile....






Photo Matthew Lloyd-Getty


Barbican Art Gallery

Silk Street EC2

Tickets from £9 to £14.50, booking advisable
10.00am to 5.30pm


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