Brooklyn Museum: ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’

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It was a no brainer that I would venture out to the Brooklyn Museum when I heard that ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ had opened just days before my arrival to NYC.

How could I pass that up?  It was truly a once in a life time experience.

The Brooklyn Museum is one of the largest and most comprehensive art museums in the country. Its holdings include objects ranging from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art and represent almost every culture. The Museum is located in central Brooklyn, a half-hour from midtown Manhattan and has its own subway stop. The 560,000-square-foot landmark Beaux-Arts building, designed by McKim, Mead & White, is set on Eastern Parkway, one block from Grand Army Plaza, in a complex of parks and gardens conceived in the nineteenth century that is also home to Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (with which the Museum shares a parking lot), the Prospect Park Zoo, and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

When I arrived at the Brooklyn Museum there was already a long queue of people waiting to get into the Gaultier exhibit.  Again for a girl on a tight schedule I felt a lil bit anxious but I preserved through.

‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ opened on October 25, 2013 and will conclude on February 23, 2014.

The Brooklyn Museum is the only East Coast venue for ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’, the first international exhibition dedicated to the groundbreaking French couturier, organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The critically acclaimed touring show, already seen by some one million people, spans the Paris-based designer’s thirty-seven-year career and includes iconic examples never before exhibited. The Brooklyn presentation includes new material not shown in the previous venues, including ensembles from his recent runway shows. This dynamic, multimedia contemporary installation devoted to Gaultier explores in depth his fashion themes of equality, diversity, and avant-garde design through more than 140 cutting-edge couture and ready-to-wear garments for both men and women. It also features film, dance, and concert costumes, including the conical bra and corsets Madonna wore during her 1990 Blonde Ambition World Tour and her wardrobe for the 2006 Confessions Tour, costumes from the films of Pedro Almódovar and from the 1997 film The Fifth Element, and photographs by Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Herb Ritts, and Mario Testino, among others. Video and television clips are featured as well as other archival sketches. The material on display dates from the mid-1970s to 2012.

‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ exhibit did an exemplary job of painting a gorgeous portrait of how Gaultier’s child hood influenced his design esthetic, drive and work ethic which propelled him into fine tuning his artistry within haute couture.  I always find it fascinating to see how fashion and art mavens develop and preen their talents to bring them to such acclaim.

Viewing haute couture pieces like Gaultier’s up close at the Brooklyn Museum was like eating ice cream for dinner.  You are able to view the handiwork, rips, tears, seamless garments and embroidery crafted into the likes of corsets, gowns and trousers.  I only wish we could touch them.

‘Perfection is relative and beauty is subjective’.  Indeed.  I remember watching Gaultier’s run way shows on Fashion Television as a teen and thinking ‘Wow, this guy is bold!’.  Models from different ethnic backgrounds, tattooed and pierced gents and rounder than the average run way models; Gaultier gave me permission to be myself and experiment in the comfort of my North Toronto home.

The pieces represented in this collection at the Brooklyn Museum were decadent.  I appreciated that the pieces were coordinated within themes:  denim, camouflage, runway, punk rock sensibilities clashing with traditional French tastes, Madonna’s tour wardrobe, photography and early Vogue magazine shoot campaigns.  It was a cohesive storied collection that you can walk through with ease, inhale and revel in the beauty of the wardrobe’s architecture.

Be prepared for the life like mannequins who speak to you, roll their eyes, dispense attitude and create an instant atmosphere.  These elements added an even sexier layer to the already provocative exhibition.

Gaultier isn’t perfect.  There was some strong cultural appropriation and cross referencing of religious motifs in this collection – let’s face it.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t call it out.  A wedding gown with a First Nation headdress?  A sweaty and almost naked Madonna (not Ciccone)?  Hmmmm.  Indeed inappropriate and I can see how fashionistas could gravitate to this as ‘cool’ or ‘avant garde’.  That aside, it does create a dialogue.  I would be lying if I didn’t think the overall design wasn’t daring and still trying its best to honour the roots of its inspiration.

Is it worth the trek out to Brooklyn to catch the ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’?  Yes.  Walking in the Brooklyn Museum’s space was a lovely departure from the hustle and bustle in downtown NYC.  I enjoyed taking my time, examining pieces like a couturier and when I was done with Gaultier I went on more adventures within the other floors of the Brooklyn Museum for a further buzz.

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