Heide Van Doren Betz

Jean Paul Gaultier


 An Artist Of Couture, Rich And Famous In Inspiration  


Blinking, smiling and talking mannequins surprise visitors at the San Francisco de Young Museum exhibition, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, which features four decades of the influential designer’s creations.  The exhibit includes sketches, photography and video.  Gaultier, who modestly credits his overwhelming acclaim to his team of seamstresses and artisans, has crossed the line from fashion to art – wearable art.  Gaultier is an artist and his medium is fashion.


This exhibition, produced by Canada’s Montreal Museum of Fine Art, where it premiered in 2011, is now in San Francisco until August 2012.  It will move on to Madrid and Rotterdam, finishing in Stockholm in late 2013.  The public reaction has been one of awe and amazement at the sheer creativity, innovation and quality of the rarely seen up-close couture and ready-to-wear ensembles.  Haute couture, which adheres to strict industry rules (original, one-of-a-kind, handmade garments), is shown in Paris to only a select few who can afford prices that compete with luxury automobiles.  Hundreds of hours and teams of artisans create one ensemble.  Gaultier’s iconic leopard skin couture gown (which at first glance looks like a real leopard skin) has thousands of tiny crystals and beads.  The legendary embroidery master, Francoise Lesage, who passed away at the age of 81 in 2011, spent 700 hours completing it.


The self-taught Jean Paul Gaultier, who turns 60 this year, began his career working for Pierre Cardin whom he credits with teaching him that “the idea is more important than the material”.   He soon became independent creating couture even when other designers abandoned it for being prohibitively expensive.  Gaultier became the chief designer for Hermès from 2003 to 2010 during which Hermès also invested in the Gaultier label.


Gaultier’s freedom of expression, his open mindedness, generosity of spirit and his willingness to embrace distinctively different lifestyles, are the underpinnings of this amazing exhibition.  The creatively designed and masterfully tailored 140 ensembles pay tribute to the streets of Paris, pop rock, science fiction, cinema, India, Africa, the jungle, China, Mongolia, the Hussars and the Cossacks.  Boundaries are erased between cultures when Gaultier and his artisans employ latex, leather, fishnet, tulle, silk, organza, metal, pearls, beads, sequins, paillettes and more to create works of art that will be worn by few but now, with this exhibition, can be appreciated by many.


When asked what he considered beautiful, Gaultier responded:  “There is more than one type of beauty, there are many types.  You can find beauty anywhere, if you look.”




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