"These must be for halloween." -young girl at the Gaultier show
Jean Paul Gaultier at the DeYoung in San Francisco. Pure genius. Something about putting hundreds of hours of work into handcrafting a haute couture piece and then letting it drag along the floor really struck me about his aesthetic and his work in general. He seems to have mastered that elusive balance between precise, unwavering orientation to detail and unprecious non-attachment to the items themselves. One mannequin wore a camouflage jacket, coyly lined with gold lame that is only visible with a pop of the collar or a roll of the sleeves. How decadent, how inappropriate, what cultural statement that basic piece makes. Camo is to hide from attention, lame is to attract attention. Who wears such a thing? How dare they? Must we consider the feelings of others when we decide what to wear? Gaultier is crafting an experience really; one that just happens to involve immaculate costumes and results in transforming the wearer/viewer into someone they didn't realize they were. And who doesn't want to be someone different then they are every once in awhile? That's the core of fashion, isn't it?
Gaultier's tender and biting critique on gender is a second inspiring aspect of the show. In another dichotomy, his designs manage to exhault the female body and yet doesn't make an object out of it. Across all the work, men repeatedly covet female beauty and the rituals that get women there, but in hopes that they can possess these qualities themselves rather than the usual sexualized, mysogynistic response that culture requires men provide to scantily clad women. These men admire these women, but desire their femininity more than their anatomy. One of the most interesting pieces in the show for me, fine art wise, consisted of a male mannequin dressed in a (stunning!) 3 piece suit covered by a (supurb!) corset. He was positioned toward a mirror, which contained a projection of himself. Through the use of projected video, the mannequin and his reflection had a conversation amongst themselves about adornment, gender, beauty and self-consciousness. "Quiet! I can sense people watching us!" he says at one point, indicating his embarrassment at his genderbending outfit. "Just smile and look pretty, " his reflection responds, "why shouldn't you look beautiful?"