Jean Paul Gaultier: A fashion genius

As much as I love travelling with Dave, there are moments when we realise that we need to spend some time apart. Mainly this is when he wants to visit yet another war museum and I’d rather do something else… preferably something girly.

This could be getting my nails done, going shopping, or simply baking a cake. Dave is many things, but he’s not a woman, and therefore is not particularly interested in the aforementioned activities.

And this is what happened when I decided to visit the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition in Melbourne – Dave just wasn’t interested.

Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

Although he has expensive clothing taste and a nose for good design, this lends itself predominately to suits and not gowns. And when I say suits, I mean Savile Row, not this type:

Gold outfit Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

Viewing some of Jean Paul Gautier’s best work

Dave and I had been walking to the botanical gardens in Melbourne a few days earlier, and spotted a giant sign for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition on the side of the National Gallery of Victoria.

“I’m going to that,” I’d announced. Dave said he’d busy himself at the Victorian War Memorial in the meantime, which was located just up the road. It sounded like the perfect day out.

And so I found myself, two days later, gracing the foyer of the NGV and braving the crowds to get a peek at one of the world’s most famous designers and some of his best pieces.

Perfume bottle dress Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

Look familiar? This is the outfit on Jean Paul Gaultier’s perfume bottles

A love affair with Australians

Walking around the exhibition, two things immediately become apparent. The first is that Jean Paul Gaultier has done a lot of work in his lifetime – there are more than 140 outfits on display at the exhibition alone – and the second is that he loves working with Australian celebrities.

Interactive Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

As I walked through the maze of rooms, Jean Paul lists Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett as just some of his many muses.

Beyonce Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

A Beyonce outfit from her 2009 tour

But it’s not just Australian celebrities Jean Paul has had the pleasure to work with – he’s also designed costumes for Beyonce, outfits for Amy Winehouse and, possibly most famously of all – Madonna’s pointy bra.

Mermaid Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

Madonna-inspired mermaid on the left, and another outfit from Jean Paul’s mermaid collection

Taking inspiration from all walks of life

But it’s not just celebrities who inspire Jean Paul. Like us, he’s greatly inspired from travel and seeing other cultures. He’s created outfits after mixing with Jews, Africans, American Indians and even Inuit people.

African Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

Amy Winehouse Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

He’s also been inspired by great artists such as Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso.

He’s also drawn on his own life experiences to create pieces, such as transgender outfits and others that look like the naked body, to show that sexuality isn’t something to be ashamed of.

Nudity dress Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

As a young boy, Jean Paul says he was teased because he was never really into soccer like the other kids, and he wants to let other youngsters know that it’s okay to be different.

Madonna Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

Favourite elements of the exhibition

But for me, it wasn’t the wackiest parts of the exhibition that were my favourite – it was the most beautiful parts.

From the beaded leopard gown that took more than 1,600 hours to make, to the mermaid inspired range – Jean Paul does haute couture like no other, and you can really see the skill of the workmanship in his designs.

Leopard dress Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of VictoriaBut perhaps my favourite part of all with Jean Paul going against the norm – from his punk rock wear that inspired a fashion trend in the ‘80s, or his black and white striped outfits that had millions of people copying.

Denium punk Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

But it was the outfit he made for Beth Ditto that really was the icing on the cake – or should I say the stand-out accessory to the exhibition – for me.

If you don’t know who she is, Beth Ditto is a singer-songwriter who weighs 95kg and modelled in Jean Paul’s 2011 spring show during Paris Fashion Week.

Not your typical model size, Ditto’s outfit was on display too – a glamorous gown proudly on show.

Beth Ditto Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

And to me, that symbolises what Jean Paul is all about – a designer who, rather than aims to please like so many, aims to push boundaries. Whether with sexuality, religion, or plus size models, Jean Paul is not someone to do something by halves.

Just like he’s quoted in the exhibition for saying, “To conform is to give in,” and there’s no doubt Jean Paul will ever be giving in.

Quote Jean Paul Gaultier National Gallery of Victoria

What you need to know:

The exhibition has now been flown to Paris. For more information about the tour, click here.

We received complimentary tickets courtesy of National Gallery of Victoria, but as always our opinions are our own.

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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