Curator of Jean Paul Gaultier Exhibit Says Designer 'Likes to Shake Things Up'

A new presentation San Francisco's De Young Museum shows the bad boy Parisian designer in another light.

The designer with muse Dita Von Teese
Getty Images

An exhibition of Jean Paul Gaultier's work, titled "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk," opened this past weekend at San Francisco's De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. While there were two nights of opening celebratory parties, attracting JPG muse Dita Von Teese, doyennes of the San Francisco social world like Vanessa Getty, Dede Wilsey and Denise Hale, and visiting fashion world stars like Paris-based journalist Suzy Menkes and French hairstylist Odile Gilbert, the real star was the exhibit itself.

THR spoke with Jill D'Alessandro, De Young's curator of costume and textile arts, about the show and why the museum chose to bring it to San Francisco. (The only other fashion-related exhibitions at the De Young have been those highlighting the careers of the late Cristobal Balenciaga and the punk provocateur Vivienne Westwood.)

"Two of his overriding influences have been the chic Parisian woman and the punk scene out oft he 1970s, out of London," she said. "He has had such a diversified career - the exhibition shows the totality of his vision, and what's amazing also is when you realize the number of collaborations he has had. He has really used fashion as a way to address social and cultural issues."

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Running through Aug. 19, the exhibition -- which began at Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts last May and was curated by former model Thierry-Maxime Loriot -- will next travel to Spain and other cities. It's a unique and novel way of showing a fashion designer's work, as it includes major fashion photography (by Pierre et Gilles, Mario Testino, Richard Avedon, Cindy Sherman, Alix Malka), video of Gaultier's famed runway shows and clips from films he styled (among them: Pedro Almodovar's Kika and Luc Besson's The Fifth Element). The show also features the cone bra and corsets Gaultier designed for Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour, and photos of the pop superstar performing in his daring lingerie looks.

Of course, there are outfits from collections dating back 20 years, including trenchcoat gowns, couture knit wedding gowns, with Gilbert-designed wigs on the mannequins that are almost as interesting and intricate as the clothes themselves.

Another element of the opening weekend was the screening of a new documentary called Jean Paul Gaultier ou les Codes Bouleverses (Jean Paul Gaultier and the Shattered Codes), directed by former model and muse Farida Khelfa. It's 52 minutes long and includes moments with another JPG muse, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, now France's first lady.

"Gaultier likes to shake things up with a wonderful sense of humor," said D'Alessandro. "He's sort of relaying a statement of tolerance and acceptance. He draws from a diversity of realms and he brings them all together - he has an extremely diversified and inclusive voice. The exhibit correctly captures that sort of raw energy the sort of world of Gaultier; he really has a contemporary voice."

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