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Jean Paul Gaultier at Dallas Museum of Art

The DMA’s invitation to the Gaultier soiree


Pack your bags!  The Dallas Museum of Art is now a fashion destination.  Come see The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.

The Kick-off Party

Last Friday selected members of the museum attended a private soiree to kick off the new Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit.  The latest in wearable art filled the museum’s sidewalks, as did many pairs of very expensive blue jeans.  Mr. Gaultier’s fashions on exhibition were certainly art, but few of us would actually wear them…and price wouldn’t be the only hindrance.

Art is one of my reigning passions.  Of course, I love paintings and sculpture, but I have a preference for the practical.  I linger among watercolors, oils and marbles, but must be forcibly dragged out of Decorative Arts galleries.  A Victorian Silver Service for forty with a different fork for every type of food fascinates me.  Porcelain, crystal, pottery, furniture – it’s all compelling.  And decorative arts don’t have to be in a museum to get my attention.  A truly beautiful carafe in Crate and Barrel or a new teapot design at Target will bring me to a halt and make me forget what I came in for.

For me, fashion fits right into the Decorative Arts.  I love gorgeous fabrics manipulated into functional garments which flatter the wearer.  Many years ago when I visited England, my favorite museum was Bath’s Museum of Costume, now called the Fashion Museum.   We may laugh at the impracticality of bustles and crinolines, but when done right, the effects can be breathtaking.  And then there’s Jean Paul Gaultier.

Other Fashionable Art

Though the exhibition is Gaultier’s first, it’s not the DMA’s  first fashion foray.  As I stood in line, my mind wandered back to the mid-eighties.  Dallas was all aflutter over the acquisition of the Reves Collection.  For several years it seemed as if we should rename the whole museum Wendy’s Place.  I volunteered frequently at the DMA back then and it was not unusual to see Wendy Reves breeze in and out amid her flock of admirers.

In addition to the many lovely items the Reves Collection permenantly added to the museum’s holdings, Wendy also let us borrow some of her clothes.  The exhibition of her wardrobe wasn’t mounted in the DMA, yet it remains one of my favorites by the institution.  Wendy, a top fashion model in her younger days possessed an impeccable taste in clothes.    Well, maybe it was just similar to mine, but I loved absolutely every item in the exhibition.  I could easily imagine wearing each ensemble and wished for a life filled with the occasions to demand such a wardrobe.

The Exhibition

Most of what I knew about Gaultier, the museum’s current exhibit, was limited to perfume bottles and Madonna.  I love fashion, but couture is a little outside my budget.  When I do see photographs from couture catwalks I wonder where I would wear the ensembles and why top designers seem to no longer have an interest in pretty clothes.  Worth, Chanel and Lanvin would not approve.

Once I was admitted inside the exhibit I began to understand.  These creations do not suggest what I should wear, but address the social issues behind why I wear what I do.  Golden mermaids sport bras with the same problem as Pinocchio’s nose.  Men wear maxi skirts with the double button fronts of sailor’s trousers.  An elaborate framework of yarn covered circles allows the audience to see the body of one mannequin, while strategically placed pieces cloth with a religious theme hide the x-rated parts.  All this and I was barely inside the exhibit.

I turned to make a comment to my husband and he was gone.  Scanning the crowd I saw Bill awestruck across the room.  Fashion might be the focus of this exhibit, but it does not define its extent.  State-of-the-art mannequins display the clothes.  Instead of sculpted features, videos of actual people talking, smiling and blinking provide the faces.  In fact, Gaultier himself speaks to the crowd through one of the mannequins.  While most of the people in the room were commenting on fabrics and headgear, Bill discussed technology with a stranger.  Instead of gazing at elaborately embroidered lame’, he studied the trajectory of the ceiling mounted projectors.

The next room is devoted to Gaultier’s boudoir phase.  If you know his perfume bottle then you will feel at home, but the corsets for men and the female-corset clad male mannequins reveal his goal was greater than mere foundations for chubby women.  Sexuality and gender are Gaultier’s targets.

The blurring of gender lines continues and intesifies in the exhibit’s center room.  I doubt they’ll be taking third graders here.  Form fitting body suits are emblazoned with life-sized nude graphics.  What is covered is also revealed -both in form and and in photography.  Digging deeper, another body suit delves beyond the skin and sports graphics of the muscles underneath.  Reading the labels next to the display cases, Gaultier’s own words express his frustration with fashion gender.  Though he may be right, are we actually able to embrace his ideas?  The patent leather clad dominatrix astride her male companion in another display case seems almost banal in comparison to some of the mannequins.  After all, the costume was designed for Madonna.

I found the next portion of the exhibit to be the most entertaining.  Extraordinarily garbed mannequins glide at catwalk level before your eyes.  Though most of the fashions would never be seen on the streets of Dallas, Gaultier tricks you into thinking they might.  Take the black and white hounds-tooth bodysuit for instance.  I’d need to tighten up my thighs before donning it, but I could imagine a twenty-something walking into the hottest nightclub venue wearing it.  That is, I could until I realized the bodysuit also completely encased the head.

But for all of the obvious outlandishness, I truly began to see the skill of Gaultier beneath his shock factor.  Details like the closure on a green leather handbag, the lines of a sequined gown or a perfect pair of black pumps begged to become a part of my own wardrobe.  The beauty of the craftsmanship, the richness of the fabrics and the way the sleeves became shoulders were all signs Gaultier was not only an artist with ideas concerning self-image, sexuality, gender and politics, he was also a gifted artisan.

The final room was pure pleasure.  I found the fashion under the artist’s commentary.  I appreciated his vision.  Each costume included an elaborate creation for the mannequin’s head.  Some were as fantastic as costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies, but a collage of tortoise shell combs on one made me wonder if I could sport something like it to an event during the holidays.  Then Bill was through with fashion for the evening.  We joined the revelers in the atrium, who shook their booty while we checked out the buffet.

Go, go, go to The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gautier.  It will be in Dallas until February 12th.  I have these suggestions for you.  Plan your visit when the museum is not crowded.  The buzz in the room was so loud I could not appreciate the talking mannequins.  Observe more than the clothes; you’ll enjoy the technology and the people watching.  Bring an open mind.  This show is not about your closet or what you would be comfortable wearing.  Gaultier was aiming above the heads and bodies of we commoners.  And be ready to go with the flow.  Then you’ll have fun and maybe you’ll even expand your fashion sense.  Oh, and look for me.  I plan to be there often.

4 thoughts on “Jean Paul Gaultier at Dallas Museum of Art”

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