Exhibitions – The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk @ National Gallery Victoria (Melbourne)

Jean Paul Gaultier has an outlandish take on French fashion and the 150 or so original designs of his currently housed at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) are definitely worth the trek to the outer end of the city.

Finishing up at the end of this week, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, will have you gawking at Gaultier’s intricate designs, with some outfits having taken 150-200 hours to make. The exhibition opened last year in October and has previously been set up in San Francisco, Brooklyn, London and Stockholm and various other cities around the world. This is the first international exhibition to be set up for the designer with the brainstormer (and curator) behind the idea for the exhibition being former model Thierry-Maxime Loriot.

Rather than having mannequins that look as lifeless as a mannequin can be, faces have been projected onto their faces with an eerily real look to them adding a realistic touch to the over-the-top designs.

The golden carousel: Fun for the children or child at heart - Photograph by Lillian Altman
The golden carousel: Fun for the children or child at heart – Photograph by Lillian Altman

Each room of the exhibition touches on a different theme with other random outfits thrown in. As you enter the exhibition, after taking a quick ride on the golden chair carousel in the foyer area, you are met with lined sailor outfits, including a mannequin of the designer himself introducing the exhibition and his work in his native language; French. With each room comes a deeper understanding of the inner thoughts of Gaultier’s mind and the inspiration from which he draws from for his creations, from sailors, to feminism, to cone bras, to the London punk scene of the seventies.

Jean Paul - Photograph by Lillian Altman
Jean Paul – Photograph by Lillian Altman

My favourite room was the London-inspired punk room, which draws inspiration from Gaultier’s visits to London in the seventies. This room features a moving runway with front row seats for the gallery viewers, mohawks aplenty, khaki prints, lace-up knee high boots, denim, different shades of tartan, jewels and even showcases an Amy Winehouse inspired outfit.

London Punks - Photograph by Lillian Altman
London Punks – Photograph by Lillian Altman

The punk fashion can be seen as a frightening vision for some, however there were more confronting outfits featured including dominatrix wear, a tiger print outfit complete with a penis tail, nudity and another with decorations around the genitalia area, which, for some, was at eye-level. During an interview with Australian journalist Virginia Trioli at the NGV in October last year, Gaultier stated, “What is ugly can be beautiful.” And you definitely get this sense when viewing some of these more interesting outfits.

The confronting nature follows on with some of his works on display focusing on gender bending and religion crossing, including a photograph taken of men and woman dressed in Hassidic clothing normally only worn by the man and also mentions his work with transgender, every girl wishes she looked like, Australian model Andrej Pejic, who recently underwent sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) to become Andreja Pejic.

No censorship here - Photograph by Lillian Altman
No censorship here – Photograph by Lillian Altman
Hassidic ladies and men - Photograph by Lillian Altman
Hassidic ladies and men – Photograph by Lillian Altman
No censorship here - Photograph by Lillian Altman
No censorship here – Photograph by Lillian Altman

The exhibition also gives a nod to other notable Australian’s Gaultier has worked with – Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman and Gemma Ward. He also cites Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic style as an inspiration. Unconventional international stars Gaultier has worked with are featured as well including Dita Von Teese, Beth Ditto, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.

Each Friday night until February 6th the gallery hosts an end-of-week extended hours event featuring a different live music guest and DJ each week. Additionally, there are various fashion talks. The performer for the night I attended was the angelically voiced Kate Miller-Heidke. Backed by a guitarist and back up singer, she mainly performed tracks from her recent release, O Vertigo and threw in a few humourous and naughty tracks too. Her set was as interesting as some of the designs in the exhibition. The last musical performance for the Friday night sessions will be the aptly extravagantly out-there all girl Munich band Chicks on Speed, with band-member Alex Murray-Leslie being the resident DJ for an open-til-midnight opening of the exhibition on Saturday. The exhibition will also extend its hours on the final day up to 10pm.

The exhibition is targeted as a family event. There’s a bar for the adults and school programs for high schools kids and questions relating to fashion aimed at the children; and the carousel is for all ages.

Get in quick, as the exhibition will be closing its doors on February 8th, with NGV being the only Australian Gallery or Museum/Asia-Pacific venue to showcase these delicate and extravagant French gems. Alternatively you could travel to Paris, which will be the next stop for the exhibition.

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