Jean-Paul Gaultier at the Barbican

Passing through London last week, I visited the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican. My husband, who gets some pretty good ideas from time to time, suggested it might be a good outing with our daughter who just happened to be at a loose end in London that afternoon. This is not a cheap outing for three people, with tickets at £14.50 each, but it turned out to be well worth the cost as it was a memorable exhibition.

I expect most of you are familiar with J-P’s work, some of which is very well known, e.g. Madonna’s corsets and some of Kylie’s stage outfits. (See example of corsetry in photo below). Jean-Paul GaultierI first became aware of him years ago when he was co-presenting ‘Eurotrash’ on Channel 4; he has a most charming and beguiling personality which worked very well on television. What I hadn’t realised until I went to this exhibition is that he’s also a serious and very influential artist. I just loved this show. You actually get quite a lot of frock for your £14.50; we were in there for around an hour and 40 minutes and if I’d been on my own I might well have spent even longer.

So, what are the highlights? For me:

  • The huge range of styles and influences. It’s not just about corsets although there is a lot of corsetry in the show. There are some lovely dresses, suits, kilts and jackets. Some of them look eminently wearable, although you’d have to be brave/impervious to comment to wear some of the garments outdoors.
  • The sheer ingenuity of the concepts. For example, one of my favourite pieces was a woman’s evening dress made entirely out of men’s silk ties. This was beautiful, stylish, imaginative and even wearable.
  • J-P’s eclectic approach to style, design and models. Although he’s dressed many famous, stick-thin, models, he’s also taken a more broad-minded approach to size and appearance, designing, for example, for Beth Ditto and for unusual, non-standard, models. Given that most of us are not supermodels, this inclusive approach is very welcome.
  • The beautiful manufacture and finish of the couture garments. I spent ages looking at how the garments had been put together, and the ornamental finishes achieved. It’s a good opportunity to look at couture up close and to appreciate the vast amount of work and skill that goes into these garments. Anyone who is interested in stitching would get a lot out of this show.

Any downsides? Not really, although I would have really appreciated the opportunity to look at a sample of garments on the inside, in order to look at the back of the work, the seams and construction. I should think fashion students and anyone interested in garment construction would get something out of this. But this is a minor point; it’s a fabulous show, and if you get the chance to go, I recommend it.


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