How to bake (or make) a blockbuster

Gaultier has resisted the production of a classic retrospective exhibition showcasing his design work for decades. He may have been concerned about the idea of a space occupied by rows of dressed mannequins arranged in chronological order. This was far removed from contemporary designers’ engagement with street fashion or flamboyant club culture.

Gaultier equated the “blockbuster”, a museum exhibition that looks back at a large body work, recognising successes and critical acclaim. Dead designers are removed from fashion currency.

Fashion contexts are challenging, especially in terms of representations of human experience, appearances, narratives on consumption and circulation, transience and cultural conditions.

The exhibition is a contemporary fashion show that gives a powerful voice to design. The museum media spreads fashion ideas and examines the relationship between fashion and other things.

Bakers and seamstresses

Cartier Foundation of Contemporary Art held an exhibition ten years ago showcasing Gaultier’s best-known designs. The exhibition Pain Couture (High Fashion Bread) focused on artisanal practices but did not display any fashionable clothes.

Gaultier’s most iconic clothing designs were kneaded, crafted and baked by French bakers, instead of displaying examples of his past and current clothing collections.

Bread garments provided a better understanding of fashion, especially in terms of the making process and form. Madonna’s bra dress, which features brioche cup cups, was one of the most famous garments. The bread-like abstractions of clothing was creative and quirky.

Jean Paul Gaultier talks about Pain Couture, 2004.

The exhibition brought attention to the unique bread-making techniques that were being threatened by generic bread franchises in Paris. Transience, in this context, was the solution to design – and went against the “permanence” associated with museums.

The clothes were doomed to slowly harden, and eventually be reduced to crumbs. After the show, there was nothing to archive.

Gaultier may have decided to support and participate in the NGV’s large retrospective this year. This show is a perfect example of the never-ending activity in fashion design displayed within museum conditions.

The exhibition, like Pain Couture, is captivating because it brings together artisanal practices. Both exhibit a profound attention to detail.

Gaultier’s design practice

The NGV exhibit is a collection of real clothes from the designer’s archive. The clothes and images show the ability of fashion to dress the body in a provocative and imaginative way. The clothes on display are a combination of complex ideas for dress and the best European fabrication methods.

The selection of “recognised garments” is what makes the exhibition so appealing. The celebrities who wore them have made these items familiar. The museum has been transformed into a catwalk, a nightclub, boudoir, and streetscape to showcase the 160 garments that are part of the exhibition.

Gaultier calls himself an artisan, because his company creates distinctive, high-quality products by using traditional methods or labor-intensive techniques.

Jean Paul Gaultier’s French Cancan collection for women, Autumn-Winter 1991-1992. (c) Patrice Stable/Jean Paul Gaultier

Fashion is a collective activity, and Gaultier’s artisanal venture involves scores of individuals working in design, production, and distribution. It is an industry that values scale over singularity.

Mannequins with animated faces (and even talking ones) projected on them can be used to illustrate the human experience when wearing clothing. Display mannequins offer a variety of interactive experiences. The mannequins also subvert the museum space by interacting with the visitors.

What impression does the NGV show make on Gaultier?

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier – From the Sidewalks to the Catwalks NGV, Brooke Holm

Gaultier’s creations are playful and contest the ordered system of dressing with idiosyncratic juxtapositions. The assemblages mix genres and genders, recycling fashion history, cultural dress traditions, and recycling fashion history. To critique our clothing, the clothes use satire and visual puns.

The juxtaposition of provocative garments from earlier decades and the vivid, intricately detailed haute couture creations is fascinating.

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