‘London,’ says Jean Paul Gaultier, ‘was my vitamin. I love the freedom of London…The energy, the character, all the people that are different.’ It was perhaps inevitable, then, that the first major exhibition of his work should come to the city that so inspires him.
From the moment you enter the Barbican, you are struck by the sheer energy of Gaultier’s designs. He’s called the enfant terrible of fashion, and his amazingly imaginative works — from tribal feathered headdresses to bondage wear and men in skirts — demonstrate why.
Gaultier has become most famous for his love of pop culture: from punk mohicans to Amy Winehouse, his influences are obvious. He cites The Rocky Horror Show as one of his inspirations, which might explain his love of corsets — a classic theme. Perhaps strangely, he first designed conical breasts for his teddy bear Nana,who is also part of the Barbican display, alongside Madonna’s (i)conical breasts. But then again, Gaultier and his designs could hardly be described as ‘normal’; he is famed for embracing difference. When he first put men in skirts on the catwalk, so the story goes, the whole staff of Vogue walked out in disgust. But as Gaultier puts it: ‘Except for the medieval codpiece and the bra, garments have never had a gender.’ It’s unlikely the Vogue staff will be walking out of this exhibition in a hurry.