Jean Paul Gaultier Gets Freaky
Meet the famous French designer who is bringing a new cabaret to the city
Celebrated fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, famous for his cone bra designs and his nautical print, has changed the way we look at fashion, has worked with some of the world’s most talented and fashion icons including Madonna and Kylie Minogue, and now the designer is bringing his talents to the all-new cabaret, Fashion Freak Show.
The self-confessed lover of “freaks” confides that he has “always loved freaks, weirdoes, agitators, the mixing of different aesthetics, the unexpected encounters.” And from the man who always puts on quite the spectacle with his own runway shows, his cabaret is set to embrace more of his theatrical tendencies and form a natural extension from his fashion shows to his cabaret.
“I discovered the entertainment world at the age of nine while watching a Folies Bergère revue on TV. And I found out what a fashion show was through Jacques Becker’s film Falbalas, in which Micheline Presle falls in love with a fashion designer played by Raymond Rouleau. With the Fashion Freak Show I intend to bring these two worlds together,” Gaultier explains. “In every fashion show that I have presented from the very beginning of my career I would always put a bit of a show in it. It could be Edwige Belmore singing My Way, the Sid Viscous version in 1979, or Dita von Teese doing a striptease at couture in 2010 but there would always be an element of a show,” he continues.
When deciding on the name of the cabaret, Fashion Freak Show, the designer confides that he “always loved difference and tried to show it throughout my career. So maybe if you’re different you’re considered freaky. I want to show difference. For there is beauty to be found everywhere, it all depends on how one chooses to look at it. This transgressive energy will be on show for all to see. This show is the story of my life, things I have experienced, seen and loved. And also, stories that I have never told before. It will snake through four decades of my life, different periods of my career, from my childhood to my early career, from my greatest fashion shows to the wild nights. I will draw from the people who have inspired my fashions, from filmmakers to pop stars, for this revue production will combine singing, dancing and acting and fulfil my childhood dream of making a show. The Fashion Freak Show is also an explosive playlist of hits that have inspired me throughout my life, from disco to funk, from pop to rock and also, new wave and punk. I asked my friend Nile Rodgers to produce the soundtrack and compose and record original music for the show. It will be a grand party!”
Of course, any party hosted by Jean Paul Gaultier means some fabulous fashions and for his first cabaret, the designer designed “tens of new exclusive costumes to incorporate within an exuberant scenography without forgetting my most iconic creations as the famed Blond Ambition tour corset for Madonna, the sailor striped t-shirt or skirt for men.”
Spending “so much time dressing others that I dress very simply now,” the designer loves to look at what people are wearing, especially if they are not “total looks”, sharing that “I love when people try to express their personality through clothes. It doesn’t always work but I don’t like to judge.” The French designer who declares he would “stop” what he is doing the day he is no longer inspired to design, explains that he loves “to dress those who love my clothes and through that who love me. In a way I have become a couturier to be loved as I realised that my work was my passport to people’s hearts. I have never set out consciously to provoke. If you do that it never works. For example, when I did the corset dress I noticed that my girlfriends would wear just a bra underneath a jacket. Their mothers burned their bras, but they wanted to be sexy again on their own terms. I also presented ‘l’homme objet’ as I felt that the men could be seen as on object. I was always horrified by this expression ‘soit belle et tais toi’, be beautiful and shut up. I was brought up by women, by my mother and my grandmother, and I always thought that women were more intelligent and stronger than men. And I wanted to show it in my collections. Even though looking at my fashion shows some people would say that my clothes are unwearable it is not true. I have always designed real clothes and it was with the styling that I would turn them around.”
And it is his way of working “on a tradition and turning it on its head”, that has set Gaultier apart from other designers. Inspired by everything and anything, Gaultier has the admirable ability to take anything and turn it into the season’s must-have. Seemingly never running out of ideas, Gaultier explains that “everything can be an inspiration. Even a mistake. Once I saw advertising in the street and I thought that models had a wool hat, scarf and gloves all in one. I doubled back to see it and realised that it was only the way it was photographed but it inspired me to do an all-in-one hat.”
For the designer who epitomises Paris for many around the world, the French capital is also an important source of inspiration for him, explaining “I grew up in the suburbs of Paris, in Arcueil and there was always this fascination with Paris that started at the Porte d’Orléans. But I would say that my Paris is full of clichés and I love it that way. I have been inspired by the Tour Eiffel, I have put [a] Moulin Rouge print on a couture dress, I [held] my last ready-to-wear show at the Grand Rex cinema, [and] my statue is at the Musée Grévin.”
Though it isn’t only other fashion items and the fashion capital that inspire his designs, with strong women also pushing his creativity, as he explains that “my collaboration with Madonna is often taken as an example [of the Jean Paul Gaultier look] and it is true that we share the same values, but I love all those who have a strong character and who are not afraid to express it. I have previously invited Beth [Ditto] and Dita [von Teese] [to be part of my shows] because I love them, and I love what they do. Designers need to express the spirit of the times. We are all expressing what is happening around us, the changes in society. So, I would like to think that my couture is in tune with the society that we live in.”
And it is with this kind of thought that has Gaultier admired and studied internationally with his creations exhibited in museums around the world from Paris to Melbourne. “I don’t think that fashion is art, it is a craft. And for years I didn’t want to do an exhibition as I see fashion as something alive, clothes on a hanger or on a mannequin don’t really interest me. But when I met the team of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts I realised that I could do with them an exhibition that would not be static and boring. There were talking mannequins that were developed in collaboration with Denis Marleau and UBU Theatre Company in Montreal, the exhibition was not chronological, but it was presented by my codes, or rather my obsessions and it turned into this great adventure that lasted [for] more than five years, travelled to 4 continents, 9 countries and 12 different cities. More than 2 million people have seen it.”
This level of excitement is what also makes Gaultier so fascinating. After decades in the fashion industry, he is still able to be excited about new projects and new ideas. The little boy who wanted to be a pastry chef when he grew up confesses that “my work is my life and I love it and enjoy it. I love the point where I am in my life. I never thought that I would do an exhibition that will travel for 5 years or that I will do a theatre show. I have all the freedom I want and can express myself in new ways.”
Fashion Freak Show starts on the 2nd of October at the Folies Bergère. Turn to out Entertainment section for more information.
After people have watched your show what would you like them to walk out thinking? “I would like them to walk out with a smile on ” their face and with a spirit open to difference.