Monday, 17 September 2018

Life is a Cabaret: Jean Paul Gaultier's Theatre of Fashion

A play of transparency and words: Smoking, No Smoking were key to Jean Paul Gaultier's latest haute couture collection in Paris. Main pciture and all photographs by Elli Ioannou. Cover picture of the Tony Ward haute couture show by Anna Cappello
Jean Paul Gaultier's latest haute couture collection was one of the highlights in Paris last month. The French couturier dances to his own muse and imbues his creations with a vision of the world where clothes say more than just what you are wearing. While his fashion shows are like a cabaret, he will premiere his first autobiographical revue at the Folies Bergère this October. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento and Elli Ioannou

An electric blue pleated skirt and jacket contrasts
with the predominantly black and white
AW1819 collection
TODAY, French designer Jean Paul Gaultier creates two haute couture collections a year and he puts all of his vibrant energy and swirling ideas into making them more like performance pieces. His designs are a form of self expression but are also full of witty social, cultural and political commentary. He also manages the difficult feat of creating avant-garde pieces that are also beautifully tailored and wearable.

This time as writer, director and set designer, Mr Gaultier is also taking his work into the theatre. The couturier is currently rehearsing his autobiographical revue called Fashion Freak Show in Paris. He says it is a new form of theatre that combines both a revue and a fashion show and includes actors, dancers and circus performers with dozens of specially designed new outfits.

Mr Gaultier is planning on taking the audience on a journey from his childhood and early career to his most flamboyant fashion shows and nights spent at Le Palace and London. He also pays tribute to other artists that have inspired him from filmakers Pedro Almodovar and Luc Besson to singers like Madonna and Mylène Farmer and dancers such as Régine Chopinot and Angelin Prejlocaj.

 It is a new form of theatre combining both revue and fashion show with actors, dancers and circus performers

To bring the project to fruition he collaborated with Tonie Marshall, who co-directs the show. The designer says it will have music from disco to funk and from pop to rock and new wave ~ a playlist that he says has inspired him throughout his life. The revue will open in October at the cabaret music hall of the Folies Bergère and run until December.

The swirling smoke and filmy curtains at the cabaret-like
haute couture show in Paris
It is nearly four years since Jean Paul Gaultier stopped producing ready-to-wear collections for men and women. Instead, Puig Beauty and Fashion Group, the brand's Spanish majority shareholder who bought out Hermès stake seven years ago ~ after the designer was creative director from 2003 to 2010 ~ now focuses on Jean Paul Gaultier perfumes and the couture line.

Haute couture had originally brought Mr Gaultier great success when he started the collection in 1997, initially without the backing of a large company. Here he found his creative playground where he was able to express his eclectic and experimental aesthetic even more freely than in his pret-a-porter collections.

Jean Paul Gaultier's designs are a form of self expression but are also full of witty social, cultural and political commentary  

A beautifully tailored iteration of Le Smoking,  
in silk and sequins for the AW1819
haute couture collection
In Paris last month, the designer presented a lively show of his new work at the Jean Paul Gaultier headquarters at 325 Rue Saint-Martin in the Marais. The atmosphere was like a film set and the grand building like a small palace that provided the backdrop to Mr Gaultier's private party where everyone was invited to celebrate. Walking up
the grand staircase, with its encrustations of decorative plasterwork and tall mirrors, guests arrived along with the media, camera crews and lots of champagne. Unlike the start of many fashion shows, it felt welcoming, fun, colourful and inclusive: we were being invited inside his home and his tribe was there to celebrate.

The atmosphere was relaxed like a cabaret club and cocktail party, a contrast to the often solemn and impersonal nature of other couture shows. Waiters and waitresses served drinks wearing the signature Gaultier breezy white and blue striped sailor tops.

This autumn/winter 2018/19 season, the theme was Le Smoking, the tuxedo for women originally created by Yves Saint Laurent and a leitmotif that has long run through Jean Paul Gaultier's work. There were different iterations of the tuxedo from short and shapely cropped jackets with silk lapels and voluminous capes to elegant, long gowns with bustier tops that showed Mr Gaultier's fine tailoring.

The couturier manages the difficult feat of creating avant-garde pieces that are also beautifully tailored and wearable

A long train in diaphanous silk organza
forms a curling trail like a cloud of smoke
But this season, le smoking was expressed quite literally with not only beautifully cut black and white suits but also with faux cigarettes made into ear broaches and necklaces. He uses the cigarette ~ with all of its fraught contemporary connotations ~ as a symbol of freedom of expression.

Appearing from a backdrop of filmy white curtains amid curling smoke, models waved electronic cigarettes, pipes and cigarette-holders as they walked the white, raised runway.

The domed ceiling had a neon blue projection of the words smoking or no smoking and the electronic soundtrack was filled with the sound of matches lighting, smoke being breathed out and the occasional cough. A diaphanous, organza dress in pale, gossamer greys with a long, floating train closed the show suggesting nothing more than a sinuous curl of smoke.

The collection was presented on a classic, white runway with a neon blue stage backdrop and it felt like a theatre or cabaret space. The choreography on the runway moved between models walking straight along the catwalk to more theatrical moments when male and females took off their jackets and exchanged them with each other.

From early in his career, Mr Gaultier has been questioning gender roles, long before androgyny had become the dominant trope in avant-garde fashion. This time, he used the free the nipple campaign as a comment on restrictive dress laws and social media controls with models wearing transparent plastic shields. For the finale, a man and a woman came out topless except for these wedges of clear plastic that reached up to their faces. One read in French: Tetons Libres and the other Free the Nipple harking back to the designer's young days as French fashion's enfant terrible.

From the start of his career, Jean Paul Gaultier has been questioning gender roles, long before androgyny became the dominant trope in avant-garde fashion

Free the Nipple and Tetons Libres on the transparent
shield-like tops that the models
wore like fashion armour
Apart from the transparent shields, looking like a form of armour, the models wore long leather gloves and black and white skirt-trousers. The stiff plastic quadrilinear shapes were also used on other outfits as oversized wraps and rectangular counterpoints on sleeves and shoulder junctions. Black and white gaiters were worn with stockings and socks adding to the burlesque aesthetic of the collection.

Jean Paul Gaultier has created revolutions in the fashion world that reverberated beyond the rarefied world of Paris and were reported on by the international press, eventually ending up as pop culture references. Two of his stand-out creations were the satin conical bra and sculptural corset he designed for Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition tour that made him known on the world's fashion stage and the “man skirt” created for the Jean Paul Gaultier menswear collections in 1985. He subverted ideas of traditional masculinity and femininity by including these skirts for men and kilts in his work. Twenty years later, Mr Gaultier organised Braveheart: Men in Skirts exhibition at the Costume Institute of New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which showed his designs and those by Dries van Noten, Vivienne Westwood and Rudi Gernreich. The aim was to show designers who used the skirt in men's fashion as a way to upend social codes and redefine ideals of masculinity.

The exuberant front row being photographed
before the Jean Paul Gaultier AW1819 show
Mr Gaultier has always worked beyond the tight confines of haute couture, designing costumes for both theatre and also major films. And he has continued to work with singers like Madonna, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Katy Perry, designing their stage costumes.

His gowns are also worn on the red carpet by actors such as Marion Cotillard Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett and many others.

Starting out, Jean Paul Gaultier didn't have any formal training as a fashion designer but as a teenager he had the chutzpah to send his sketches to famous couturiers. Pierre Cardin was the first to recognise this young talent and took him on as an assistant in his studio when the designer turned eighteen years old in 1970. A year later, after training with Cardin, he worked for French designers Jacques Esterel and Jean Patou.

The aim was to show designers who used the skirt in men's fashion as a way to upend social codes and redefine ideals of masculinity

Mr Gaultier's own first collection was launched in 1976 and by the early 1980s he had become well known for playing with traditional gender roles and his work inspired by streetwear and popular culture plus his use of models who were androgynous and tattooed and often didn't fit the rake thin frame that was (and often still is) considered the ideal in fashion.

Jean Paul Gaultier runs down the catwalk at the end of
his latest couture show in Paris
For this latest haute couture show, instead of having just a single model walking the runway, Mr Gaultier also paired male and females side by side, wearing variations of the one look. The designer also made a special homage to the Fez, part of an early menswear collection where he collaborated with hat designer extraordinaire Stephen Jones. This time, the hats were jauntily worn by both male and female models in pale greys with long tassells. A male model wearing a Fez and a mouth guard, ceremoniously removed it as a symbol of freedom of speech while others playfully danced on the runway.

At the end of the entertaining show, Jean-Paul Gaultier dashed out, running and waving his arms, expressing the joie de vivre that still infuses his work with the fun and sense of play which differentiates him from the formal sobriety that dominates other haute couture houses in Paris. It will be interesting to see whether the upcoming revue about his own life at the Folies Bergere matches the drama and theatre on his catwalks.

Tap photographs for slideshow highlights from Jean Paul Gaultier's AW1819 Haute Couture Show
Jean Paul Gaultier creates two haute couture collections a year and he puts all of his vibrant energy and ideas into making them more like performance pieces.
The designer also manages the difficult feat of creating avant-garde pieces that are also beautifully tailored and wearable.
His designs are a form of self expression but are also full of witty social, cultural and political commentary.
Haute couture had originally brought Mr Gaultier great success when he started the collection in 1997, initially without the backing of a large company.
It is four years since Jean Paul Gaultier stopped producing ready-to-wear collections for men and women. Instead, Puig, the brand's Spanish majority shareholder now focuses on Jean Paul Gaultier perfumes and the couture line.
 Starting out, Jean Paul Gaultier didn't have any formal training as a fashion designer but as a teenager he had the chutzpah to send his sketches to famous couturiers.
Pierre Cardin was the first to recognise this young talent and took him on as an assistant in his studio when the designer was eighteen.

A year later, after training with Cardin, he worked for French designers Jacques Esterel and Jean Patou.
Black and white gaiters were worn with stockings and socks adding to the burlesque aesthetic of the collection.
Mr Gaultier' first collection was launched in 1976 and by the early 1980s he had become well known for playing with traditional gender roles and his work inspired by streetwear and popular culture.
The collection was presented on a long, classic runway with a neon blue stage backdrop and it felt like a theatre space or cabaret.
 There were different iterations of the tuxedo from short and shapely cropped jackets with silk lapels and voluminous capes to elegant, long gowns with bustier tops that showed Mr Gaultier's fine tailoring.
The French couturier dances to his own muse and imbues his creations with a vision of the world where clothes say more than just what you are wearing.


From early in his career, Mr Gaultier has been questioning gender roles, long before androgyny had become the dominant trope in avant-garde fashion.


He subverted ideas of traditional masculinity and femininity by including skirts for men and kilts in his work.

Jean Paul Gaultier has created revolutions in the fashion world that reverberated beyond the rarefied world of Paris and that were reported widely by internationally, ending up in popular culture.
Mr Gaultier has always worked beyond the tight confines of haute couture, designing costumes for both theatre and also major films.

He  has continued to work with singers like Madonna, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Katy Perry,
designing their stage costumes.


With his haute couture collections, the designer  found his creative playground where he was able to express his eclectic and experimental aesthetic even more freely than in his pret-a-porter collections.
His gowns are also worn on the red carpet by actors such as Marion Cotillard Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett and many others.
This time le smoking was expressed quite literally with not only beautifully cut black and white suits but also with faux cigarettes made into ear broaches and necklaces.
Le Smoking given another form with its voluminous shape and scalloped tulle edging, finished off with a a pop of colour
with the red tights.  
A male model wearing a Fez and a mouth guard, ceremoniously removed it as a symbol of freedom of speech while others playfully danced on the runway. 



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