Montreal’s Jean Paul Gaulthier Exhibit: A Must See!

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Cone breast bras. Chic white clothing with stripes. Collaborating with and creating costumes for strong, sexy icons like Madonna and Kylie Minogue. His sensuously intoxicating perfumes. Truly, the influence of French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaulthier on the pop culture scene and fashion of the past 40 years is undeniable. He’s pushed boundaries, not only for women’s, but also, men’s couture.

Photo credit: Indiaspopup Blog

Even if you know nothing about fashion, you will surely tingle at the sight of The fashion world of Jean Paul Gaulthier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, presented until October 2nd at the Fine Arts Museum of Montreal.

Montreal is the perfect city to premiere this exhibit. Jean Paul describes his art as an “open-minded vision of society, a crazy, sensitive, funny, sassy world in which everyone asserts their own identity.” Fusion couture, he calls it. Well, Montreal is a fusion city. Where else in the world do various multicultural communities live side-by-side in peace and harmony, tinted with the flavor of old school France and where the women have a worldwide reputation for their “hotness”? Really, there are so many good looking women in Montreal that one of my male friends once told me that, at some point, you stop looking at every one of them because it gets too time consuming! But I digress…

I went to the exhibit with a fashion designer friend. We got there at 11am, opening time for the Museum. There was already a long lineup! ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘this event is happenin’!’ Contrary to the club scene lineup however, baby-boomer tourists were let in first. FYI – pre-bought tickets is the way to go.

It was hard not to notice that everybody was well-dressed. White t-shirts with navy stripes were au rendez-vous on many visitors. I have to confess: I first went to see the exhibit on a Monday, only to find out the Museum was closed that day. For that occasion, I had adorned my neck with a red and navy striped scarf worn like a tie, and red and white striped earrings. I thought it might be cliché, but it’s one I happily wanted to partake in. So bravo to all of you who honored JPG by wearing stripes!

Once inside, the walk to the exhibit was quite long, but was fortunately punctuated by other exhibits being showcased, free, at the Museum. Visitors can venture off to explore other forms of visual art. Check out the one entitled “The Earth is Blue like an Orange”. It poses the question: How does imagination figure in art today? An à-propos question that leads us to the imagination world of Jean Paul Gaulthier…

Fittingly, the exhibit begins at the top of a lavish staircase, a dark velvet carpet leading us there. Greeting us is a simple, 80’s feel neon sign declaring Jean Paul Gaulthier. And thus the creative opulence begins. There’s a lot to take in, starting with the raw creativity, craftsmanship and artistry of the couture – I mean, wow! Some of the pieces took over a thousand hours to make!

Jean Paul Gaulthier isn’t so much about clothes as he is about vision. He imagines ensembles, with every accessory thought out with precision: the shoes, the hair/hat/head pieces, the jewelry, the stockings (oh my…the lovely stockings!), right down to the face masks, when required.

Every room of the exhibit has a theme: Le Boudoir is where you’ll explore his fascination with corsets and his play with the female silhouette. It’s also where you’ll see the corsets and costumes developed in collaboration with Madonna, for her Blond Ambition Tour. Viewing intimate polaroids of the fittings will be a treat for every Madonna fan! As will be the chance to see the infamous cone breast corset so identified with the Madonna of the 90’s.

L’odysée explores his beginnings. In the early 70’s, he was taken in as a protégé par Pierre Cardin, an influential French designer of the time. It’s also later in this decade that JPG did his first runway collections. His influence on pop culture starts almost immediately, being intimately intertwined with the 80’s phenomenon era of the Supermodels. Seeing pictures of Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Nadja Auermann, to name a few, you can’t help but think that JeanPaul Gaulthier was instrumental in contributing to the überization of exceptionally beautiful women to the rank of supermodel. Ah, the 80’s…I was a teenager in that era. I remember how shocking and innovative Jean Paul Gaulthier’s creations where at the time.

Punk CanCan and Urban Jungle are two rooms of the exhibit reserved for his early creations and other breathtaking pieces inspired by Nature and Culture. I was amazed to realize that a lot of what he did in the 80’s (punk yellow plaid dress with integrated leather jacket; an army themed ballroom gown) is still relevant today, could have been created nowadays. But you can see for yourself – a lot of the pictures featured in this blog are from those rooms. Enjoy the mind blowing creations! Can you believe the originality and work involved in the button dress? As for his ode to tattooing and S/M flavored creations, they are displayed under the appellation Second Skin.

The last room, Metropolis, showcases his contribution to pop culture. He did the costumes for the Fifth Element, La Cité des Enfants Perdus and various Pedro Almodovar movies, to name a few. He’s dressed many French icons, such as Catherine Deneuve, Mylène Farmer and the fabulous music groups Niagara and Les Rita Mitsuko. Not to mention Nirvana, Depeche Mode, Lady Gaga. And remember the 80’s group Cameo, known for their song “Word Up”? Well, he dressed them too, back in 1986!

Do view the screening of clips presented at the end of Metropolis. Not only will you see some of the movies mentioned in the previous paragraph, but you will surely laugh at the segment about two women who actually wear Jean Paul Gaulthier creations in real life situations…with hilarious outcomes. Sex and cone breast bras…that’s all I’m gonna say!

What sets Jean Paul Gaulthier apart from other designers is not only his unique expression of beauty and creation, but the humor and fantasy that underlies each piece. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. I left the exhibit feeling exhilarated, with the belief that anything is possible if you align vision with action. Dare to be bold and to Express yourself (Madonna song pun intended!).

And the beat goes on…Jean Paul Gaulthier will surely continue to inspire us, opening our minds with his fashion art form. Supported by his brilliant soul, mischievous smile and Light in his eyes. The celebration of aliveness…

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