The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk – Barbican Art Gallery, London

'La Mariée' - wedding gown from the 2005 haute couture collection.
‘La Mariée’ – wedding gown from the 2005 haute couture collection.

“It’s not only the beauty of the person, but the beauty of the soul and the culture.” – Jean Paul Gaultier

Recently I went to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, and was pleasantly surprised by all the dramatic tableaux created to showcase a diverse selection of his signature garments from catwalk collections over the decades dating back to the 1980s. As you might expect, outlandish corsets, sailor tops and Hollywood-inspired glamour gowns were all in evidence, and many of the thematically arranged galleries reflected aspects of the designer’s own quirky theatricality. Nevertheless, in amongst the more humorous and sexually provocative outfits were several outstanding art pieces – including an amazing fan-pleated chiffon wedding gown – titled ‘La Mariée’ – originally created for Gaultier’s 2005 ‘Tribute to Africa’ spring/summer haute couture collection, and some more unique and unusual corset-based garments made from unconventional materials such as strips of photographic negatives and fake crocodile skin…

A selection of costumes designed for stars like Madonna, Kylie and Grace Jones over the years were presented alongside film footage of the garments being worn in their performances, to give a better impression of how his work looked in motion…which also helped to give the (largely mannequin-based and photographic) displays more dynamism overall.

Gaultier’s numerous collaborations with world famous fashion photographers over the decades were presented in the form of framed photo stills from past magazine shoots – including a stunning larger-than-life-size photograph of Naomi Campbell (styled by Gaultier for Italian Vogue in 1988) showing her with a short-cropped hairstyle and jewellery arranged in homage to the Jazz-age dancer/chanteuse and international style icon Josephine Baker.

Photograph Italian Vogue, 1988
Naomi Campbell, styled as Josephine Baker (Vogue Italia, 1988). Photo by Peter Lindberg.
Photograph of the African-American dancer/chanteuse Josephine Baker.
Photograph of the Jazz-age African-American dancer/chanteuse Josephine Baker.

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Published by

Carol Dixon

Carol Dixon is a teacher, education consultant and academic researcher interested in African and Caribbean diaspora histories and heritage, cultural geography, museology and contemporary visual art. Her recently completed PhD dissertation is titled "The 'othering' of Africa and its diasporas in Western museum practices" (University of Sheffield, UK).

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