Like any good journalist, I left the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition with few notes on the show, but a page filled with DIY jewellery and clothing ideas.
I’m not a particularly crafty person. My sewing machine has sat broken in my parents’ basement for about two years now, next to a dress I never got around to mending. Yet, standing in the same room as haute couture creations for the first time in my life, I decided I might have it in me to make some Gaultier-inspired creations of my own.
(As it turns out, I don’t. I’d hoped to include a photo of my metal sponge-turned-necklace here, but it’s too embarrassing and the sponge is now sulking under a pile of dirty dishes in my sink.)
I think what inspired my temporary delusion was that many of Gaultier’s materials, particularly in the punk- and urban-inspired portions of the show, were surprisingly accessible. And that’s what makes them so impressive — not just anyone can turn a garbage bag into a dress and scouring pads into wearable jewellery. Huh.
The exhibition features more than 140 outfits from Gaultier’s couture collections and prêt-à-porter lines. Rather than calling it a retrospective, Gaultier considers the show a creation in its own right. A variety of multimedia and photographs accompany the clothing.
Whether you’re a fan of the designer or not, it really is incredible to stand with your nose inches away from pieces that took hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hours to create by hand. Even to someone with my very limited knowledge of haute couture, the beauty and craftsmanship of the pieces is breathtaking.
(Also fun: the mannequins have moving faces and occasionally speak.)
The show does a good job of tracing the designer’s creative development alongside significant shifts in societal norms. I particularly liked the section that examines blurring gender roles and features skirts and corsets for men.
If you want to catch The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, it’s at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until October 2. After that, it will travel to the Dallas Museum of Art and then to the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, before going to Madrid in 2012.
text by Jaclyn Irvine
photography by Lindsey Fast