Jean Paul Gaultier at the Dallas Museum of Art: Scenes from an Astonishing Exhibit

Jean Paul Gaultier at the Dallas Museum of Art: Scenes from an Astonishing Exhibit
Jenny Block

Thought I was obsessed before.

After meeting Jean Paul Gaultier and his longtime model and muse Tanel this morning at the Dallas Museum of Art and hearing Gaultier speak about his work, I'm ready to mortgage my house to fill my closets.

The U.S. premiere of this international touring exhibition kicked off today, and it is, in one word, astonishing.

What's more surprising? How unpretentious the man is. At first glance you might think, "there's a handsome French man with the most inviting smile."

He's made fashion what it is today. He's redefined and reaffirmed, in many ways, what is acceptable for women to wear. "What can I say about the power of women?" he asked rhetorically. "Only that it is enormous. It is shocking that women are so strong but aren't supposed to show it. But I understand how important and clever are the woman. For every powerful man there is a powerful woman." In French there is a saying once - and sometimes still - directed to women, "Be beautiful and shut up. I find that scandalous."

Jean Paul Gaultier at the Dallas Museum of Art: Scenes from an Astonishing Exhibit
Jenny Block

The mannequins were specially designed for the exhibit because, as Nathalie Bondil, the director and chief curator at the Montreal Museum of Art--where the show originated--explains,"We do not want it to be a like a corpse in the space. We really wanted to pay tribute to the human being, to life."

She explained that this show is not just about fashion. It's about more than that. It's about art. "I'm not especially so fashion. Who gets to see haute couture? Are you invited? I am not. What is haute couture about? It is about art. Here you can spend time with it. It's not a retrospective. It's about contemporary art. I make no distinction between a painter and a sculptor and a couturier. You cannot make good art without true sincerity. Beyond the clothes there is an artistic vision."

Gaultier spoke about wandering into his grandmother's closet and exploring her wardrobe: "I should thank my grandmother for all the ideas I stole from her," he said.

"There is not only one type of beauty. There are many kinds of beauty. I wanted to show other kinds of beauties, ones with attitude that were very interesting to me. When I saw something different I was more attracted to it. It is more interesting to find people with their own personality."

He loves interacting and being with people. "Men can cry as women can fight."

He told stories about his grandmother taking a sip of vinegar in order to make her gasp, allowing her corset to be tied tighter. "It was like a form of torture. I was fascinated."

He told stories about his grandmother leaving the house without putting a skirt on over her slip. "But is was beautiful. A skirt that was not a skirt."

Body corset worn by Madonna Blond Ambition World Tour, 1990 Dazed & Confused, April 2008 © Emil LarssonEXPAND
Body corset worn by Madonna Blond Ambition World Tour, 1990 Dazed & Confused, April 2008 © Emil Larsson

He spoke about the pointed bra designs he did and how he did the same for men. "I did also for the cock," he says and then laughs. "No, sorry, the cod piece," he corrected. It was the cutest thing. (If it's ok to call one of the fathers of fashion "cute.") The second language only adding to his charm.

Gaultier himself does not necessarily consider fashion art. "I think my job is to make clothes. Clothes that have to be worn, that have to please. They have to sell. Art is art. It is free. The painter does it all himself. [The designs] are my babies but I also have all my team working together. My vision is the fruit that is happening all around."

His role, he says, is "to be inspired by art, to be inspired by the needs and desires of the people. It is reflection more than anything else. It is not pure art."

I understand what is saying when it comes to mass produced ready-to-wear. But when you see this show, when you see his couture, there is no question. It is art.

The mannequins are remarkable. The color of the skin and the shape of their faces. And projected on those faces is film of models and of Gaultier himself. They are talking and singng and blinking and making faces. It's remarkable. Truly remarkable.

The designs fill several rooms each with a different title Boudior, Skin Deep, Punk Can Can, Meropolis, Urban Jungle. The first is nautical and under the sea, including a mermaid on crutches.

There is a runway where the "models" move around the oval platform. There are cases above with designs inside. There are drawings and photographs. There are boots made from feathers. There's a jacket with an alligator tail. And there's what looks to be a bride with an Indian headdress.

See this show. That's all that can be said really. This is monumental and we are lucky as hell to have it here in Dallas. Even if it's the only time you set foot in an art museum, see this show.

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Dallas, TX 75201


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