The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier

by Daniel Haim

From June 17 to October 2, 2011, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) will present The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, the first retrospective devoted to the celebrated French couturier who launched his first prêt-à-porter collection in 1976 and founded his own couture house in 1997. Dubbed fashion’s enfant terrible from the time of his first runway shows in the 1970s, Jean Paul Gaultier is indisputably one of the most important fashion designers of recent decades. Very early, his avant garde fashions reflected an understanding of a multicultural society’s issues and preoccupations, shaking up – with invariable good humor – established societal and aesthetic codes. Initiated, developed, produced and circulated by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the designer’s own label, this retrospective has been organized in collaboration with the Maison Jean Paul Gaultier. Following its presentation in Montreal, the exhibition will travel to the Dallas Museum of Art (November 13, 2011- February 12, 2012) and then to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young (March 24-August 19, 2012).

“I wanted to create an exhibition on Jean Paul Gaultier more than any other couturier because of his great humanity,” explained Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “Beyond the technical virtuosity resulting from exceptional expertise in the various skills involved in haute couture, an unbridled imagination and ground-breaking artistic collaborations, he offers an open-minded vision of society, a crazy, sensitive, funny, sassy world in which everyone can assert his or her own identity, a world without discrimination, a unique ‘fusion couture.’ Beneath Jean Paul Gaultier’s wit and irreverence lie a true generosity of spirit and a very powerful message for society. His humanist aesthetic touches me deeply.”

The exhibition will feature approximately 120 ensembles, mainly from the designer’s couture collections, but also from his prêt-à-porter line, along with their accessories. Created between 1976 and 2010, for the most part these pieces have never been exhibited. Sketches, stage costumes, excerpts from films, runway shows, concerts, videos, dance performances, interviews and even television programmes will all provide a look at the couturier’s world. Photography will also be a major focus of attention, thanks to loans of, in many cases, never-before-seen prints from renowned contemporary photographers and artists. The exhibition will be organized along five different thematic sections: “Paris,” “Fusions,” “Multi-Gender,” “Eurotrash/X-Rated” and “Metropolis.”

A substantial portion of the exhibition will also be devoted to the artistic collaborations that have characterized the world of Gaultier, including filmmakers (Peter Greenaway, Luc Besson, Caro and Jeunet, and Pedro Almodóvar) and choreographers (Maurice Béjart, Angelin Preljocaj and Régine Chopinot), not to mention with the world of popular music, in France (Yvette Horner, Les Rita Mitsouko and Mylène Farmer) and on the international scene (Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga).

Under the leadership of Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the exhibition is curated by the MMFA’s Thierry-Maxime Loriot, with the assistance of fashion historian Florence Müller, Guest Curator.

Reflecting the couturier’s droll exuberance and poetic vision, the sophisticated and innovative design of this exhibition will feature mannequins, whose design, production and staging have been entrusted by the Museum to Denis Marleau and Stéphanie Jasmin of the Montreal theatre company UBU.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will publish, in French and in English, a major monograph on the occasion of this exhibition. This large volume (424 pages, nearly 500 illustrations) will include many interviews with Gaultier’s mentors, muses and colleagues, as well as the artists he has worked with – Madonna, Pedro Almodóvar, Catherine Deneuve, Farida Khelfa, Martin Margiela, Pierre Cardin and Dita Von Teese, to name just a few – and will feature many previously unpublished illustrations from the Maison Gaultier archives and other sources. It will include an essay written by Suzy Menkes, journalist at The New York Times and fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, and two interviews with the designer himself, in addition to an interview with Valerie Steele, fashion historian and director of New York’s The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), a timeline of Gaultier’s career and a complete bibliography.