Monday, December 22

On Display: The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier

The same weekend that I visited Return of the Rudeboy at Somerset House, I also visited Jean Paul Gaultier at The Barbican. I was incredibly excited to visit the exhibition it's one that was on my to visit list since it was first announced. I'm ashamed to say that this was my first visit to The Barbican, for anything. The Barbican is a huge space housing a theatre, concert hall, exhibition spaces, restaurants, shops, etc. I can't say it's my favourite gallery to visit, maybe I'm easily overwhelmed, but I did find the space a little busy - there is so much going on with all the events and the general public using it as a walkway/thoroughfare.

The exhibition took the visitor through Gaultier's various fashion influences and phases - including the well known influences of nautical, punk and corsetry. It was an amazing exhibition, if not simply for the sheer volume of the collection of pieces; with Gaultier retiring from Ready to Wear shows this year, you definitely got the feeling that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Displaying fashion is awkward; clothes are so much about the way something feels, getting up close to have a look at details in the fabric; but the inevitability of fashion exhibitions is that you can't touch. With rooms crammed full of couture and historic pieces worth thousands of pounds, any idea of interactivity or contact with the pieces is almost impossible, unless you want the fabric in tatters by the end of an exhibition's run. The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition got around the interactivity in an interesting way, all the mannequins had live action faces projected onto them - some winked, some whistled, some pouted and some sang - I'm not entirely sure it served any purpose, outside of being another layer to the exhibition, but it was very tongue in cheek.

The problem with exhibitions like this is that they are huge, you could spend several days inside without really looking at everything in enough detail, but of course if you downsized the amount of pieces on display you run the risk of missing a major chapter of a hugely prolific and talented designer - either way, you lose. This is pretty much the problem I have with fashion exhibitions (and why I sway between over excitement and dread when thinking about Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty next year) - I want to go up close to see the stitching, I want to touch the fabric, I want to see every piece in a designer's collection, but I also want less - I don't want to feel overwhelmed, like I've missed something important.

I wanted so much to go back several times to really get a thorough look, somehow knowing what to expect might have helped me to immerse myself a little more so I could focus on all the pieces - I'm sure I missed something. It was a hugely inspiring exhibition - Jean Paul Gaultier is one of my favourite designers, and it was quite awe-inspiring to be able to see pieces that I recognise from the catwalk, editorials and music videos, in real life.


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