Pope Jean Paul Gaultier
Since I didn’t make it to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to see “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” so I thought I should take time to pay homage to a man that galvanized my own obsession with fashion. What I find most charming about Gaultier is his indefatigable enthusiasm, well documented in the New Yorker Style Issue article “FANTASYLAND.” He uses the word “super.” A lot. It’s a trait I find exhausting in most humans, and impossible in other artists. Yet when I imagine Gaultier, a savvy smile is what comes to mind first; a look not of insolence but possibility.
I am certain Gaultier is not without pain or ghosts, but he certainly seems to create clothes from a place of joy. Similarly, I think subversion is often regarded as a serious act; a certain amount of darkness is required—as if one is struggling to get out from underneath of something. Gaultier reminds us, as much as any fashion designer might, that playfulness is also a strategy to turn heads. And such playfulness doesn’t have to be childlike or silly, but sexual and/or sophisticated.
With so few couturiers left, perhaps it’s unfitting to describe any one of them as subversive. And definitely not one who, after decades remains a multi-line, fragrance, and furniture megabrand. But there is something about his legacy that makes fashion more fun. There is something about his manner of working that inspires one to neither fully embrace nor totally overthrow—but to take the very best of everything.
I was in elementary school when Madonna was on her Blonde Ambition tour. So for me, Gaultier’s most memorable moment was his Spring 2007 couture show which re-purposed Catholic imagery and materials to make elegant and exhilarating pantsuits and dresses to wear everywhere but Sunday mass. Almost every exit was excellent; a true collection. Every girl wore a halo; which made the catwalk an exquisite “fuck you” to the line us women walk between saints and sinful.