In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a fashion maven. It has never occurred to me to pay attention to when Fashion Week is in New York, or any other city, much less to actually go to Fashion Week.
And Jean Paul Gautiere, the French designer, was not even in the top-100 on the list of designers I paid any attention to. If you’re like me, and have never followed his career, you probably know his work only through the cone bra Madonna made famous, and the corsets he transformed into outerwear.
So you can imagine my reaction when I went to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts, and found that their most popular exhibit was The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. I couldn’t help but yawn as my eyes rolled back.
But was I wrong. And shocked. In fact, I was stunned by what I saw. It turned out to be the highlight of my visit to Montreal.
After reaching the museum late one afternoon, I went up a flight of stairs and at the top found a low stage with about 15 mannequins on it. Each was dressed in a Gaultier creation, in this case a nautical theme, with several sailors and mermaids. But unlike any other mannequins I had ever seen, these had real faces and their eyes followed me across the room, their mouths moved and they spoke.
The mermaids were a chorus, and one of the mannequins was Gautiere himself, presumably telling us how and why he came up with his crazy designs. It was all in French so I didn’t understand a word but everyone else there was laughing.
The entire thing was so incredible it was evident that many of us at first thought they were real people. But it was, instead, a unique, high-tech projection on the cloth heads of the mannequins and it was amazingly realistic. It may sound like a somewhat offbeat comparison, but it reminded me of the GE exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York (I know I’m dating myself) where robots showed us the household of the future.
The rest of the Gautiere exhibit, populated by a small army of other mannequins, was equally fascinating. All of “them” explained JPG’s thought process behind each of his unique designs. There were, of course, the usual “writings on the wall” that provided explanations about influences on him, such as his grandmother, etc., and explanations regarding the direction and motivation behind each of his periods.
That fantastic, almost otherworldly experience hasn’t inspired me to run out and buy one of Gaultier’s creations. But it certainly has made me see them in a totally different light and with much more respect. In a way I feel that I’ve had a sneak peak into the mind of a fashion genius.
If you’re a man reading this, and thinking “this is such a women thing,” you’ll be shocked if you see the exhibit. Men viewing it are as fascinated as the woman, if not by some of the mannequins than by the incredible technology that brought the whole thing to life. My husband, definitely not a male fashionista, was as much in awe of the showing as was I.
Unfortunately, the Montreal exhibit has closed, as has the showing in Dallas at the Dallas Museum of Art. But there is one final showing in North America at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, March 24 to August 19, 2012. If you’re planning a visit to San Francisco, or even if you aren’t, make sure you visit during that time and get to the de Young. Based on its popularity in Montreal and Dallas, you may want to reserve your tickets in advance.
This exhibit may not make a fashion maven out of you either, but it will open your eyes to how art and high tech have merged – and where the future is taking us.
If you go:
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118