Exhibition layout
The exhibition's various sections provide a thematic approach to the world of Jean Paul Gaultier, tracing the influences, from the streets of Paris to the world of science fiction, that have shaped the couturier's creative development. Holding up a mirror to the society that has marked his times, this exhibition, which Gaultier considers his "biggest show ever," is punctuated by many excerpts from videos, some of them previously unreleased, as well as many never-before-exhibited prints from the greatest names in fashion and art photography, including Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Robert Doisneau, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Pierre et Gilles, Mario Testino, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, Ellen von Unwerth and Bettina Rheims, to name just a few.

      1. The Odyssey of Jean Paul Gaultier
      2. The boudoir
      3. Skin Deep
      4. Punk Cancan
      5. Urban Jungle
      6. Metropolis

Exhibition layout
Interview with J. P. Gaultier
Animated mannequins
Organizers and artisans
International tour

1. The Odyssey of Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier was born in 1952 in Arcueil, a suburb of Paris. As a teenager, he made sketches of two collections a year, taking his inspiration from fashion magazines, films from the interwar period, and 1960s television programs like Dim, Dam, Dom that covered fashion. His maternal grandmother owned a television, uncommon in France at that time, and she let her grandson watch whatever he liked. He developed a critical and analytical sense of fashion, as well as his own design vocabulary. Fascinated by unusual Parisiennes, Jean Paul Gaultier created a new look and favored unconventional types of beauty: "As a child, my attention was always drawn by those women who didn't look like everyone else…"

Self-taught, as of 1970 he discovered the tradition and skills of haute couture through stints at Pierre Cardin and Jean Patou. Part of a new generation of fashion designers, he went out on his own, starting with women's prêt-à-porter in 1976, then with men's in 1983. Twenty years later, Jean Paul Gaultier kept the flag of Parisian elegance flying high by opening his own couture house, from then on showing two collections a year. From 2004 until 2010, in addition to producing four collections for his prêt-à-porter lines annually, he designed two others for Hermès.

Regulated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, haute couture is shown exclusively in Paris. Couture houses must comply with very specific requirements regarding how garments are made, presented and sold. Unlike industrially produced prêt-à-porter, couture is a fine craft whose one-of-a-kind objects are the product of exceptional technical virtuosity. Creating certain designs sometimes necessitates hundreds of hours of work. Everything involved in a couture garment-from embroidery and lace to accessories and the final finishing touches-must be entirely accomplished by hand. Even though it receives a great deal of media attention, rarely is the general public afforded a direct experience of haute couture.

2. The boudoir

With his cobbled together, conical-shaped falsies, Nana the teddy bear is the touching witness to the creative beginnings of Jean Paul Gaultier who, as a little boy, was fascinated by the old-fashioned charm of corsets, a passion springing from childhood memories. Marie, his maternal grandmother, introduced him at a very young age to women's fashions and Falbalas, the Jacques Becker film recounting the rise of a young couturier that had a profound effect on him. Reworking the early twentieth-century corsets and 1940s waist-cinchers dug out of his grandmother's closets, he has created new classics, like the cone bra, and underwear as outerwear. In the wardrobes of women today, his corset dresses symbolize power and sensuality.

Brought up by strong women, the couturier does not subscribe to the myth of the weaker sex. With derisive humor, he reinterprets the signs of the imprisoned female body. The hoops or cage crinolines of the nineteenth century symbolically confined women to their roles as wives and mothers, while the corsets of those times served, among other things, to conceal an abdomen swollen by pregnancy—a sight then deemed indecent because of religious considerations. For his part, Jean Paul Gaultier has chosen to design a corset that instead emphasizes the fulfillment of the modern expectant mother. By reworking that garment, he has offered the attributes of womanliness to those denied them. The runway show for his Dada collection (spring/summer 1983) showcased the exaggerated breasts of totemic African fertility symbols, an assertion of women's power. He has also given men the opportunity to once again don corsets, as did the dandies and English military men of the nineteenth century, who wore them to improve their strength and endurance.

Gaultier's corseted women seemed like the negation of the feminist struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, but in reality the designer prompted a more post-feminist emancipation in terms of appearance. Many stars have worn the various iterations of his corsets with concentrically topstitched bra cups—Madonna topping the list with the iconic designs for the 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, but also Catherine Ringer of Les Rita Mitsouko, Cindy Sherman, Grace Jones, Dita Von Teese and Kylie Minogue. Far from being an instrument of torture imprisoning women's bodies, the corset now embodies the new power of the female, as well as shapes its counterpoint of the male jacket, the distant progeny of the knight's suit of armor.

3. Skin Deep

For Jean Paul Gaultier, skin and body are inexhaustible sources of inspiration. In his hands, materials become "second skins." With prints of flayed or tattooed bodies, he explores the possibilities of trompe l'oeil. His fascination with skin feeds his imagination and guides his at once romantic and fetishistic designs.

In opposition to the rule of thin, he has offered the sensuality of plus sizes, and sent out a powerful message: Be yourself, no matter what nature has dealt you! Instead of ethereal Swedish blondes, he chooses models with character. For his runway shows, he started to hold open casting calls, recruiting with classified ads that read: "Non-conformist designer seeks unusual models—the conventionally pretty need not apply."

In the early 1980s, Jean Paul Gaultier began introducing a diversity of genres, a wide range of looks that encompassed even the hypersexualized and the transgendered. As a child who had suffered from his "different" sexual identity, he offered one and all the freedom to choose their own, whether "butch," "boy toy," or anything in between. In the summer of 1985, the designer wrote a new page in the history of fashion with his A Wardrobe for Two collection, reflecting his investigation of masculine, feminine, androgynous and alternative conventions. He proposed a post-macho look with the skirt for men, which once again lent credibility to an item of clothing that, in ancient times and other cultures, had been entirely accepted.

Following from that, Gaultier created "men's couture." With The Modern Man, a haute couture collection that still remains unique, the male wardrobe was enriched by delicate, sophisticated materials. The Gaultier style features a blend of the classic and the unconventional, a mixture of rock and tradition that has inspired most of his collections. It gives men a new right, that of appealing through the expression of their fragility and sensitivity—something women seem to appreciate.

In stark contrast, he showed a woman capable of asserting the "masculine" side of her personality. For her 2006 Confessions Tour, he turned Madonna into an equestrian dominatrix surrounded by harness-bound "slave" dancers. His work has been marked by many allusions to bondage and the X-rated, with latex, leather, fishnet and other sadomasochistic paraphernalia dressing his new-style horsewomen in "ready-for-sex" designs, close by-products of late 1970s power dressing, that some have found outrageous and others sublimely elegant.

4. Punk Cancan

Jean Paul Gaultier was born in the suburbs of Paris, but his heart beats to the rhythm of both rough-and-ready Paris and rock-attitude London. He is fascinated by the Paris of the Belle Époque and the interwar years, the Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge, the colorful throngs crowding the streets of the Barbès area and, of course, the Eiffel Tower. He loves the postcard Paris that calls to mind the Parisians in Brassaï photographs, the denizens of the city's bistros and cabarets. These many visions of Paris set the scene for the multifaceted character whom Jean Paul Gaultier unflaggingly pays court to: the Parisienne.

La Goulue, Arletty, Micheline Presle and Juliette Greco are his icons. He gives new twists to their classic accoutrements—beret, trench coat, cigarette holder, houndstooth checks, gingham, and baguette. He contrasts The Uptight Charm of the Bourgeoisie (fall/winter 1985-1986) with the sass of The Concierge is in the Staircase (spring/summer 1988). His Parisienne alternately morphs into a 1940s existentialist or a 1950s couture customer, nonchalantly moving between the Paris of the multiethnic suburbs and the glittering circles of high society. By combining those opposite worlds, he ennobles mundane garments and derides the smugness of conventional good taste.

An apprentice couturier with Cardin in 1970 and 1974, Jean Paul Gaultier then became an independent designer and interpreter of societal turmoil. In January 1997, he returned to the elite ranks of his profession by opening his own couture house, a bold decision to ensure the continuity of haute couture's fine crafts and tradition. In 2004, the Jean Paul Gaultier headquarters was set up in Paris's 3rd arrondissement, in the former Palais des arts de l'Avenir du prolétariat, far from the city's middle-class neighborhoods and other couture houses.

As a child, he listened to his grandmother tell stories about life during the war. Women were already recycling then, to cope with the prevailing shortages: men's suits were altered for women; pants became skirts. By enriching recycled objects, Jean Paul Gaultier made them magnificent. Sumptuous linings turned military garments into formal attire, while evening gowns sprang from camouflage-print fabrics.

Traveling to London in the early 1970s, he got his first look at the styles adopted by the punks of Trafalgar Square, whose alternative artistry would stimulate new aesthetic codes. Punk's antimaterialist principles would have an influence on the designer, enabling him to explore a nonconformist fashion. He found inspiration and new materials in the energy of London's streets, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's SEX boutique and, with David Bowie and his alter ego Ziggy Stardust at its head, the glam rock movement. A couturier with a punk soul, he adopted the concepts of recycling and the offbeat, penury forcing him to be inventive. The total rebellion, the trash, "destroy" look appealed to him: "…the raw side of punk, with its Mohawk haircuts, almost tribal makeup, allusions to sex, torn fishnet stockings, black, kilts, bondage straps, mixing of genders and materials—all that spoke to me, suiting me much better than some of the ossified conventions of the couture."

5. Urban Jungle

Fascinated by differences, Jean Paul Gaultier sees stylistic hunting grounds in those realms untouched by the hallowed halls of fashion. Transposing, reappropriating and assembling, he gives shape to transborder crossfertilization. Societies and individuals separated by language, custom and geography merge into a world whose passports proclaim "Planet Gaultier." Through his designs, the couturier orchestrates an intercultural dialogue.

Starting in the Return of Prints collection (spring/summer 1984), Gaultier created a unique new mixture of Africa and Europe by making boubous out of tunics and mini-skirts and covering his models' heads in fezzes. His Barbès collection (fall/winter 1984-1985) forayed deeper into culture shock. In it, the designer reinvented happy accidents observed in the streets of the Parisian neighborhood he has never tired of strolling. He sees it as "a melting pot of peoples, and this intermixing, this splendid vibrancy, symbolizes the new Paris."

The designer erases the boundaries he observes within the many tribes of the urban jungle: the Bedouins of Barbès, geishas at the Louvre, African marabouts, chic rabbis, Chinese women dressed as flamenco dancers, Russian icons, Bollywood maharajahs. He has invented a new aesthetic that reflects the mix of cultures and peoples in the major urban centres of today. Hanging in the wardrobe that results can be found Chinese satin brocade pants, kimonos, Eastern European peasant blouses, Mongolian vests, Greek fustanellas, Masai necklaces, sarouel pants, fezzes and turbans. And he has explored the exotic world of the animal kingdom by creating hybrid bodies through a process of surrealistic reinterpretation: women morph into parrots, adorn themselves with trompe l'œil beaded leopard pelts, or slip into a studded python skin number, sharkskin jumpsuit or feather dress.

In a context of globalized markets where the majority imposes generic fashion and minorities cut themselves off in ghettos, when multicultural thinking falters before the challenge of integration, Jean Paul Gaultier reassembles the parts of the whole to make way for a multiethnic personality. He thinks of society as a cocktail—mixed, stirred, spiced, varied, decompartmentalized. The product of a single melting pot, society no longer consists of groups indifferent to one another while living side by side. It is made up of individuals, and each of them tells the story of our diversity.
The Museum would like
to extend its sincere thanks
to Denis-Carl Robidoux
for graciously lending his shot
of the Montreal skyline at night
to serve as a backdrop for
the Urban Jungle gallery.

6. Metropolis

As a child during the television era, fascinated by movies and variety shows, Jean Paul Gaultier absorbed culture through the lens of the small screen. Fashion interested him only insofar as he could turn it into spectacle. He saw runway shows as happenings, trips to special worlds of his devising, with their own original soundtracks, decors and unusual casting choices. As the co-host of the program Eurotrash, he was the first fashion designer to become a television star. That new status as a media darling coincided with the rise of fashion as a powerful form of expression in an image-obsessed society.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Gaultier borrowed from the realms of science fiction and the emerging sounds of new wave and house music. He stayed ahead of the fashion pack by introducing high-tech materials such as vinyl, lycra and neoprene to prêt-à-porter, and by creating innovative blends, such as neoprene-coated leather, as well as 3-D and even inflatable fabrics! He also brought out his first pieces of electronic jewelry, created by his life partner and associate Francis Menuge.

In a playful attitude, he translated his concern for recycling and the protection of the environment by creating garments out of garbage bags for his High-Tech collection (fall/winter 1980-1981). Steel wool cleaning pads became necklaces, and aluminum cans turned into bracelets. The tribute to the Russian Constructivist art movement in his fall/winter 1986-1987 prêt-à-porter collection was more about mixing materials, with its jostle of leather, vinyl, sequins and jersey.

His futuristic vision of fashion has also been reflected in his memorable collaborations with stars of the pop and rock world, who wear his designs on stage or in their videos. Many music artists have availed themselves of his talent for setting trends: Tina Turner, Nirvana, Lady Gaga, Les Rita Mitsouko, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Niagara, Neneh Cherry, Depeche Mode, Beyoncé, Yvette Horner, Mylène Farmer, Boy George, Cameo, Kylie Minogue and, of course, Madonna.

Between 1983 and 1993, Jean Paul Gaultier designed the costumes for sixteen of French choreographer Régine Chopinot's ballets. That long-running artistic association served as a laboratory for the couturier, the structures and materials of his designs suggesting and even imposing certain rhythms and gestures on dancers. As the costume sketches and video excerpts shown here demonstrate, he has continued this exceptional collaboration with the dance world, working with Angelin Preljocaj, Karole Armitage, Maurice Béjart and Joaquìn Cortès. As for the costumes he has designed for the big screen—for Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children), Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover), Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) and, especially, Pedro Almodóvar (Kika, Bad Education and, most recently, The Skin I Live In)— they sustain the dramatic intensity of the films involved, while at the same time remain true to his own creative vocabulary.
An Exhibition initiated and produced by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Maison Jean Paul Gaultier.

In the middle: Jean Paul Gaultier © Photo Francisco Garcia 2011. From left to right: Barbès collection, women's prêt-à-porter fall/winter 1984–1985. Jean Paul Gaultier archives.
The Raw and the Refined collection, men's prêt-à-porter spring/summer 1994. © Patrice Stable/Jean Paul Gaultier. Virgins (or Madonnas) collection,"Apparitions" gown, haute couture
spring/summer 2007. © Patrice Stable/Jean Paul Gaultier. Romantic India collection, "Lascar" gown, haute couture spring/summer 2000. © Patrice Stable/Jean Paul Gaultier
Image on the left: Les Actrices [Movie Stars] collection, Étoiles et toiles dress, Haute couture fall/winter 2009-2010. © P. Stable/Jean Paul Gaultier.
© 2011 The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. All rights reserved. Important notice: copyright and reproduction rights.

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