We Like — Paris, Texas

The Dallas Museum of Art has just added fashion to its impeccable repertoire of world-class exhibitions. The exhibition, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, is the first ever exhibition at the prestigious museum devoted to entirely to fashion. It is also the debut of this substantial retrospective in the USA.

Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier

Consisting of some 130 silhouettes by Jean Paul Gaultier spanning his full career to date, the exhibition takes the approach of examining the work of the much admired French designer according to thematics that reoccur consistently in his work over the full timespan of his long career. Under such subsections as “The Boudoir,” “Skin Deep,” “Punk Cancan,” or “Urban Jungle, amongst others, the presentation of his creations from both the couture and prêt-à-porter collections, meanders through Gaultier’s oeuvre. It’s an effective means of both highlighting how Gaultier’s work initially earned him the reputation of an enfant terrible; a wayward punkish imp amongst the then staid fashion houses of Paris. Drawing on underground street culture and gay culture’s gender games and with an ongoing fascination for the anthropological – as elaborated in folk costume or body modification- Gaultier breathed fresh life into the once sagging reputation of haute couture, reinventing it for a generation that no longer saw classic French style as an aspiration. But, as the exhibition rightfully makes clear, Jean Paul Gaultier would never have been in a position to bring about a change from within if the establishment of high fashion could have dismissed his work on the basis of poor craftsmanship or failing to make the grade in classic fashion terms. Beneath all the high-drama and circus of spectacle that is associated with Gaultier, there remains a classically trained designer whose mastery and love of traditional couture craft is as much part of his work as anything else.

In amongst the items on display are a number of costsumes designed specifically for performance and film. For example the exhibition includes garments loaned by and originally designed for the likes of Madonna and Kylie Minogue and various memorable costumes designed for  films by Pedro Almodóvar, Peter Greenaway and Luc Besson.

Though it’s not really a matter of becoming more tame, recent years have shown Gaultier to be truly relishing in his ability to produce fashion that relies less on the shock of the new, but takes a more subtle approach in its ironies and chicanery. One might even say that the exhibition plots his path from wild young thing to the elder statesmen of an alternative vision for luxury French fashion.

Never one to rest on his laurels, this exciting exhibition that originally arose as a collaboration between Gaultier and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts uses quirky and innovative technology that sees animated mannequins –including one of Gaultier himself- chatting to the visitor, providing useful information on the exhibition content in an audio form.

The exhibition will be open to the public in Dallas until early February 2012. Dallas is one of only two American cities that will host this substantial exhibition that premiered in Montreal. After a sojourn in San Francisco, the exhibition will subsequently travel on to Madrid, Rotterdam and Stockholm over the next couple of years.

Jean Paul Gaultier’s costume designs for a 2008 ballet by Angelin Preljocaj

Jean Paul Gaultier’s costume designs for a 2008 ballet by Angelin Preljocaj