From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, Gaultier Installment Stuns at de Young


Sometimes life takes you to unexpected places–places you never imagined you’d go, with things you never thought you’d see. When you enter fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s art installment at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, you do not arrive at just a destination, but also, a new way of seeing things.

It’s been said that time is meaningless in the face of creativity, and time indeed stops as you behold Gaultier’s imagination, which plays with the objects he loves.


Jean Paul Gaultier is perhaps most famously associated with the gold cone-breast corset he fashioned for Madonna’s 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour; however, his fascination with such elements are clearly part of his imagination pre-existing Miss M., as evidenced by his teddy bear Nana, below, which he embellished with cone-shaped breasts as a child.


Gaultier has spent his life challenging conventional thinking and countering it with his opulent offerings. Gender is questioned with androgyny, by dressing men in corsets and cone bras for example. But his imagination does not stop there. His creative mind has swept the globe examining cultures and religions throughout history–from Cossacks to Hasidic Jews to Tuaregs…


…and geishas, as seen on Madonna below.


By taking radically different costumes worn by common people he has challenged conventional beauty and class values in an illustrious 35-year career and an imaginative body of work.


Gaultier, who got his start at the age of 18 apprenticing for Pierre Cardin, contrasts the elite with the street–hence the name of this display, From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. It features punks with mohawks in Pendleton plaid thumbing their noses at authority, as they watch the runway show with catwalk mannequins wearing uniquely iconic ensembles of haute couture.

He continues to challenge expectations of ordinary dressing, layering both meaning, and patterned legwear, for example, below with his Eiffel Tower stockings that are worn beneath fishnets.


In a world that defies gravity and travels through cultures and time, Gaultier redefines the conventional wedding dress. He named the gown below “La mariée.” Half Cherokee Princess, half Marie Antoinette–it is a dress befitting of Cher performing Half Breed.


The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, $125, is the oversized coffee-table book published by Abrams available in the de Young Museum Store. This 424-page tome further illuminates the fantasies of Gaultier–fantasies so vivid that they alone inspired Madonna’s 1998 Frozen video from her seventh studio album, Ray of Light.


The book is bulging with saturated scenes from a mind ripe with curiosity…each page, a treasure on the thickest semigloss paper.

I love the shot below, by the late genius photographer Richard Avedon, featuring model Nadja Auermann…


…and this unforgettable photo, by Marc de Groot…


This first-ever retrospective of Gaultier includes previously unpublished illustrations by the designer, as well as interviews with Gaultier himself, and his colleagues and muses.

Welcome to the rich and fancy world of Jean Paul Gaultier.

From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is on display through August at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

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