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Gaultier’s World

Most people are familiar with designer Jean Paul Gaultier, be it for his iconic sailor-striped tops, outrageous catwalk shows or ‘that’ perfume. The Kunsthal in Rotterdam currently presents an overview of his work spanning five decades. 

By Cassandra Pizzey /asdf 28-03-2013

We enter the Kunsthal through it’s sole entrance – since the widely publicized theft of seven famous paintings back in October, security has been tightened – and are immediately treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the fashion master, thanks to a series of films, interviews and catwalk shows played in the auditorium. 

This is the Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, a multimedia exhibition exploring five decades of this legend’s work. “It all started when I found my grandmother’s corset,” says a projection of couturier and fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. 

Already overwhelming is the first area, as some of Gaultier’s most iconic pieces are exhibited on life size models. As we walk past, their faces come alive and start talking, singing even, trying to catch the attention of passers by. In the corner stands Gaultier himself, explaining what it was that got him into fashion at such an early age. His grandmother’s corset was the inspiration, with it’s strange salmon colour. 

The next room we enter is named The Boudoir and features the very first piece of clothing Gaultier ever made; a corset for his teddy bear.  The exhibition, subtitled From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, is split into six rooms: The Odyssey of Jean Paul Gaultier, The Boudoir, Skin Deep, Punk Cancan, Urban Jungle and Metropolis. Here we find the various themes which determined his career as a couturier. From the corsets worn by Madonna on her Blond Ambition World Tour, to never-before shown fashion photos and films featuring his creations, we are treated to the many facets of this French-born designer. 

But what of the fashion itself? There are 140 designs on show from 1970 up until 2011, mostly haute-couture supplemented with some prêt-a-porter pieces. From punk princesses, through folklore to romantic dresses and wearable faces, Gaultier seems to master every style, ignoring trends and creating his own vision of fashion. Taking inspiration from the streets, the designer creates a personal view of the world incorporating humor, sensitivity and style in his creations. 

Above all, Gaultier has always been at the forefront of technical innovation, creating new textile fusions, using textiles never meant for the fashion industry – such as the now popular neoprene –  and creating completely new silhouettes. 

It seems as though this isn’t an exhibition dedicated solely to one fashion designer. The sheer number of creations on show, the diversity of styles and various mediums used makes this feel more like an overview of fashion in general, than the fashion of just one fashion house.

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier is an international collaboration between the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Maison Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris and the Kunsthal Rotterdam. The exhibition continues until 12 May 2013. 

Photography: Nina Moerdijk

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