The de Young Museum is showcasing another sartorial iconoclast with The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, an exhibit that opened on March 24th . Known as the L’Enfant Terrible by the fashion press for his provocative garments prominent on Parisian runways in the 1970s, Gaultier brings fantastical and thought-provoking pieces from various points in his illustrious career.
Unlike many past de Young fashion exhibits, the Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier is not from an artist of the past. Although it is a retrospective, Gaultier is still alive and continues to design runway looks each season in Paris for both prêt-a-porter and haute couture.
He is perhaps best known for his conical bras that he constructs into corsets and dresses. The look, made famous by Madonna on her 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour, began on a rather unusual dress form — his childhood teddy bear. This stuffed toy, Nana, was the first to wear the prototype. It is on display at the exhibit replete with its own paper pointed bra.
Those inspired by the exhibit can find Gaultier at Neiman Marcus. A crisp cream lace tank dress and matching shrug retail for $445 and $325 respectively. The marriage of Victorian lace and the body-hugging silhouette of the dress make a sultry piece to wear this summer.
Gaultier’s empire extends into fragrances as well. His Eau de Toilette Spray (1.7 oz. $67) emits an oriental floral scent that is captured in a pink bottle that curves sensuously in the shape of a woman’s body wearing a corset. The Eau de Parfum (1.6 oz. $80) is another olfactory delight of rose and vanilla in another embodiment of his signature corset bottles. There is a version for men as well — Le Male Terrible (1.3 oz $48) dressed in his signature striped sailor top. All are available at Sephora.
Although there are reasonably priced garments and fragrances that allow the non-ludicrously wealthy to partake in Gaultier’s fashion world, the truly fantastical can be found in his haute couture collection. Sadly these designs are not as readily available to the masses.
One such showstopper look from the 90s featured in the exhibit — a full-length tulle gown layered not in silk or chiffon but instead a body hugging charcoal knit. The asymmetric pattern reveals a spray of tulle at the bottom which contrasts magically from the snug knitted bodice.
Created in the 1990s, you are unlikely to be able to find this dress. However the idea of layering a knit dress over another dress can be smartly accomplished with today’s fashions. Allsaints Spitalfields released a number of crochet dresses at varying lengths that can be worn with a full skirt. Consider its Summer Court Jumper Dress ($295), which has different knit gaugings for holes of varying sizes to reveal a unique pattern when worn over another dress. It is far from a carbon copy of Gaultier’s couture look but his idea is inspiring to translate into casual wear.
For something provocative and rebellious, a common theme for many of Gaultier’s collections, something sheer always does the trick. Pink Bunny, a lingerie store in Cow Hollow, stocks a number of items such as a high-collared lace cat suit ($110) that can be worn underneath a sheer dress. Definitely unsuitable for the faint-hearted.
On the opposite spectrum, the mariner’s look can be playfully demure. Timeless Breton stripes never get tiresome and Gaultier opens his exhibit with many striped numbers for both men and women. It has become one of his signature looks and Zara offers another take on the nautical striped top at just $19.90. Of course the Gaultier version can be had at de Young’s gift shop for $295.
At a recent lecture held at the de Young, Gaultier remarked that it is “sad to change yourself to integrate.” He advised attendees to be proud to show their “origin.” His affirmation of originality and self-expression exemplify Gaultier’s fearless approach to fashion design and perhaps can inspire us to approach dressing with such fearlessness.