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By Michael Oberman October 11, 2011

Jean Paul Gaultier : A World of Whimsy

You may be  mildly frustrated  at first, but you forgive him. It takes a long walk though the entire museum to get here. Then you come to realise the walk has a calming effect  before you are catapulted into  the Gaultier exhibit,.

You realise two things immediately.

1)  This not an exhibit for the mild mannered : It is a step into the world of Jean Paul Gaultier. You are a voyeur, peeking into Gaultier’s  theatrical and subversive world of velvet panelled boudoirs and men in corsets.

2) The mannequins talk to you. One of them winks at you and calls you baby. 

Refer to #1, if you’re still wondering about the talking mannequins . It takes a while to sink in.  

You can’t ignore the talking mannequins; they’re a sensory assault draped in classic Gaultier.  They are the perfect introduction to the exhibit. They display both  his unique ability to elevate street wear to Haute Couture and to transform Haute Couture from the formal to the out of this world.

Then, of course, there are the faces being projected onto the mannequins. Each spews out omething equally irrelevant and wacky.  The talking faces only add to the excitement as the next part of the exhibit beckons you over.  Make sure to pay special attention to the mannequin that has Jean Paul Gaultier’s face projected onto it; it is his show after all.

Centred around 6 unique themes, the exhibit is a elaborate to say the least. It would be impossible to do it all justice in such a short article. However, some elements, that I have chosen to write about, did stand out to me.

The highlight of the exhibit was the historical element. Each room is crammed with Gaultier. Often however, the most interesting part of the room is a discreet block of explanatory text underneath the mannequin. To be fair, Gaultier has had a remarkable life( I highly recommend at least a quick perusal of the Wikipedia page) . The first section of the exhibit  is dedicated to Gaultier’s primary influences in his early life, which came from his maternal grandmother Marie, the television she owned, and movies. This influence of  pop culture and strong female figures  are reflected in Gaultier’s boudoir works. Perhaps the best example is the infamous ‘cone bra’ popularised by Madonna.

If you are still wondering; the clothes are unbelievable.Inspired by counterculture, my favourites themes included the ‘skin’ suits, the Metropolis, and without a doubt, the Punk. By the time you have made it out of the first couple rooms of the exhibit, you think nothing can surprise you. Then you walk into the next section, appropriately named ‘Skin Deep’. This consists of  a room of mannequins clad in clothes that resemble muscle tissue. The metafiction is tangible. 

The last part of the exhibit is particularly intriguing. Here, all of Gautier’s work in cinema and music is compiled (surprisingly) sans sound and dialogue.

The Fifth Element  struck me as a pretty cool movie but  that might only be because Gaultier did the costume design. In the back of the room, you can also see the trailer for the upcoming Pedro Almodóvar movie, The Skin I Live In. This is the product of an ongoing collaboration between Almodovar and Gaultier. Gaultier sure knows how to finish with  a bang.

Since I am writing the article, I get to choose to devote an entire paragraph to my favourite part of the exhibit, the Punk section. I may be biased, but any exhibit which references David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust is A+ in my books. In this part of the show, Gaultier embodies the crazy energy  that permeated 1970’s London punk scene  in his clothing . In the middle of the room there is a huge, rotating runway which shows Haute Couture, re-imagined with a raw and bare look. These are, of course, the clothes inspired by Bowie and Vivian Westwood. 

The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit reflected his  uniqueness as a designer ( what else would you expect from a man who puts men in corsets)?  It is unfortunate that Gaultier’s occupation of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts ended Sunday. However, I have a feeling his countercultural army of feather clad women and glitter loving men will be back to conquer a small section of Montreal soon. 

About the author

Michael Oberman is a 2nd year Dawson Liberal Arts student . Witty, ironic, and cynical, there is nothing more he likes to do than play devil’s advocate for a controversial topic. In his spare time, Michael alternates between extracurricular activities, like debating, SPACE, or politics, playing the drums, and an intense game of Bananagrams. Other interesting facts about Michael: he likes the color green, he is a PADI certified scuba diver, and he enjoys referring to himself in the 3rd person


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    Stephanie C

    November 30, 2011

    I love this article. I saw the Gaultier exhibit myself and fell in love the second I walked in. This article embodies not only the essence of the scene but also the Gaultier’s personality that he lets show through his designs. Michael, you have done a great job writing this and your words are beautiful. They captivate people and the exhibit itself is captivating, and you have been able to recreate that feeling with words on a page. Thank you for writing so beautifully, and for those who did not have a chance to see the exhibit, read this article and you’ll understand why you should have been there.

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    November 30, 2011

    I went to see the exhibit on the first day -  and I loved it. His out of the ordinary designs made them exquisite and elegant, and it was enjoyable to see a designer that stepped way out of the box and still created timeless pieces. The article made it clear that Gauthier really had a wide spectrum of designs that were inspired by a variety of sectors. It would have been fun if the article would have talked about Madonna more, as she was his muse and wore many pieces by the designer, and not only the Cone corset. Gauthier explored the different dimensions of the human body - both male and female - whereas most Haute Couture designers focus on female designs. His versatility with both sexes as well as designs is kind of a comparison of what SPACE promotes - having both science and art become one identity.

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    Tanys D

    November 30, 2011

    This article interests me because I am a fashion lover and I have personally been to this exhibit. It was an amazing and unique experience because Gaultier’s ideas are so beautifully magnified onto his manequins and into his designs. This article explains the exhibit very well and the perfect amount of detail. Anyone who has not had the chance to go to the exhibit can almost live through the experience of Gaultier’s Haute Couture and crazy fashion risks. You give us a great insight into the historical content of his clothing and what actually inspires Gaultier, which I find to be very interesting.

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