The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier; Barbican Museum, London.



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Once in a while a radical, non-judgemental subliminal, arises and breathes fresh air into the often-times stuffy, fashion industry. Jean Paul Gaultier storms in like a whirlwind. He is one of a few designers who continue to do so over the decades, whilst maintaining an anarchistic stance, a prophetic sense of style and a keen eye on fashion.

All of which can be seen in the superb Barbican exhibition.

Several sections and room upon room, house endless garments, commissioned costumes, unlikely mismatched parings which weirdly work, and every one, performance pieces in themselves. Our eyes are treated to sights that make us think and blink-so as to make sure we are actually seeing, yes, a mannequin blinking right back at us. Unsettling and at times, ghost like, the use of projected, animated faces onto still ‘dummies’, only adds to the JPG sensibility of going that step further. It’s very definitely ‘out there’ and typically subverts. Equally, its ‘tres Francais’, as is evident in the interest in, and support of, the arts, alongside how these animations came into being.

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As an anthropologist and stylist/journalist, this exhibition sent me into overdrive. (So much stuff and all so gorgeous! ) Improbable materials made into jaw dropping outfits, (most, thankfully fake) fur, applied to politically charged themes and innovative use of ALL the basics as we know them. So much wonder, humour, awe, with more than a nod to the tribal- a veritable grand respect. Pleasing and pleasurable, a smile rarely left my face. Sexual connotations aside, JPG has an innate ability to tease the sensual from whatever material, subject matter and themed, re-appropriated clothing he utilises.

This is an exhibition which demands a close look. Then look again. You what? It cant be, that beautiful and sexy little bolero type top, chopped at the midriff, and linked to a lowered waistband, is- wait for it, wicker place-mats. Buckled at the breasts and brimming with its own simple pleasure, turned on its head. Brilliant in its use of accessory and aesthetic.

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Then there’ s his ability to re-fashion. A hermaphrodite horse rider is crossed with a saucy French secretary, whose beige ‘all in one’ number, is a favourite for many.

Not to mention couture techniques aplenty. Tailoring whether for work or play, JPGs workmanship is of the finest craft. Don’t be fooled by his tomfoolery. This is an artist at work.  A master crafter, utilising hours of labour, certainly brings to mind those who assist. Sewing beads, buttons, bows and bangles, with days and oftentimes, months worth of work. As well as styling, manipulating, presenting and accessorising,  imagery and narration.  What may look effortless and frivolous, is a thorough process. In all its forms.

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(Photo left)

Gaina gown collection from the Haute Couture range;

Cut velvet gown with cross stitch embroidered and with ribbon, glass, crystal and jet beads. Tribute to Russia and the Ukraine.  Time taken to create 242 hours. total.

HAIR STYLE-Odile Gilbert.

Here is heritage, fantasy, romance, exoticism, culture, history-Encompassing an abundance of all that makes fashion and wearing clothes, an artform and if you so choose-escapism.


Gloves that are purses, clothes turned topsy-turvy , gimp type costumes made from delicate lace and looking oh so dainty. Wedding dresses that defy reason, question all we know of tradition. Tails yes, those more usually found on our furry friends, reveal themselves in unlikely places and one in particular, you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it…The splendid and spectacular male tiger costume. Meeeeow. I urge you to REALLY examine all this wonder. It’s compelling and riddled with well meant ‘devilment’. Daft, dastardly and fun. (At this stage I have to be honest, I’m pushed for time and want to explore the fur and more tribal aspects of this . I was told JPG uses fake fur-but as beautiful as they are, all those feathers…And I believe I’ve seen pony skin and absolutely do not want to promote real fur). Its a dilemma which I will be questioning.

A hat, top hat no less, with the silkiest texture and looking darned splendid. Made out of hair. Excuse me?

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Always wry and provocative, JPGs approach confounds, whilst faithfully encompassing in parts, sensitivity and sensibility.

A mermaid with crutches is one of many mannequins that stay in my minds eye. Good humoured, touching in its emotive, and stunningly well presented, she is a thing of wonder. A siren of the sea with style. Nothing fishy about that. Its simply another of the designers signifiers, combining a sense of the surreal and sweet, minus the sickly. Job done. JGP you are both adorable and a genius. (Though methinks you are used to such praise it wont go ‘to your head! Or your tail for that matter).

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This show is a sumptuousness of the senses. And all presented in style. I could write about it endlessly and with childlike effusive enthusiasm (only last matched but the Viktor and Rolf exhibition 7 years ago and also at the Barbican). Its effervescence its contagious. Nothing is omitted. We are treated to a vast swathe of the subliminal.

Despite its abundance, greedily, we (or me?!) want more. Obsession aside, to be in the presence of such history, culture, colour and craft, to have so much well researched and presented pictures, models, garments and info, and to be privy to all, is a humble honour. Not to mention, fashion education.

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Working in various realms related to the fashion, ents, lifestyle and culture industries for over 20

years, I’ve devoured his varied work. Owning a mere few of his garments, is no block to admiring his perhaps in part, more attainable several endeavours.

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By Wendyrosie Scott