A male-model-turned-curator brings Gaultier’s boundless artistic vision to life at NGV
You've got just days left until the NGV bids au revoir to Jean Paul Gaultier. The exhibition ends on Sunday February 8, and the NGV is extending its opening hours until midnight on Saturday and 10pm on Sunday.
Tickets are on sale now for Saturday's Jean Paul Gaultier Until Midnight session, which will feature beats by DJ Alex Murray-Leslie (from Chicks on Speed) as well as crepès, charcuterie and champagne.
That Jean Paul Gaultier was hesitant about opening his Paris archives for a showcase of his 40-year career is understandable. Not because the French fashion designer was too precious to share his life’s work with the world; it was more that he felt that visiting a Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective would feel like attending his own funeral. As any fashion follower knows, Gaultier’s current work is no less influential than when he crafted Madonna’s iconic pink corset for her 1990 Blond Ambition tour, invited plus-size singer Beth Ditto onto the runway in 2010, or asked Melbourne transgender woman Andreja Pejić to model his bridal collection in 2011. More than ever, Gaultier’s fashion smashes preconceived notions of gender, sexuality and beauty – and the Breton-striped innovator knows there’s still work to be done.
So what convinced Gaultier to allow the Montreal Museum of Fine Art to create The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk? Their choice of curator, for a start. French Canadian Thierry-Maxime Loriot is a former male model who turned to curatorship after a decade-long career posing for the likes of Burberry and Giorgio Armani. In 2011, the Montreal Museum director Nathalie Bondil offered Loriot the chance to take charge of his first-ever major exhibition. Whittling down Gaultier’s 15,000-piece archive was no easy task. The process took two years, but the result is an interactive, dynamic showcase that features over 140 of the artisan’s most celebrated designs.
Melbourne will be the exhibition’s eighth destination. The man himself is now in town, and will appear for a series of talks and appearances.
Thierry, how did you approach the task of bringing Gaultier’s career to life without creating a stagnant retrospective?
We approached the exhibition more as a contemporary installation about his fashion and his obsessions through the years. It was important to me to have him involved – to work with a living artist is a unique opportunity! And the exhibition evolves: there are 100 pieces that always stay the same, but for Melbourne, we’re including a gallery of Gaultier’s pieces for his Australian muses: Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and others.
Instead of displaying the pieces in chronological order, you’ve divided the exhibition into the seven major themes of his career, including the Boudoir, Muses and Urban Jungle. Is there an overarching idea that ties them all together?
Most importantly, the aim of the exhibition is to show the human side of Mr Gaultier and the strong social message in his work. That’s why the exhibition is called Sidewalk to the Catwalk; he’s not someone who is inspired by fashion – he initiates the trends rather than following them. When you see his catwalk shows, you see that whatever your age, your body type, your skin colour, your gender, everybody is welcome in his world.
You’re right - Gaultier’s collections have taken inspiration from cultural and religious movements as diverse as London’s punk scene in the ‘70s and Orthodox Jewish apparel. Does the exhibition reveal the vision behind these collections?
Definitely. Mr Gaultier is a man who has something to say – not only about fashion but about society. When he took models from the streets, he was showing a different type of beauty. With the  Chic Rabbis collection, some people thought he was making fun of Hasidic Jews, but that wasn’t the point. He wanted to show that beauty is everywhere.
As a former model, did you discover new aspects of the fashion industry?
Yes, because haute couture was not something I was really familiar with. For each of the happy few invited to a haute couture show, each piece stays on stage for two minutes, and some of them take hundreds of hours to create. For visitors, it’s a unique opportunity to see how they’ve been made.