Of course, I'm here with an open Moleskine and an open mind. Surely I should meet this woman's scorn with scorn. Lady, I don't think you get the joke. Then again, maybe there's no joke being made, and I'm laughing too hard. Two young men walk by. Says one to the other: "That corset wouldn't even fit on my head." And to my right, stand three mannequins in head to toe Gaultier from — yes — the Chic Rabbis collection, the designer's early-'90s, fall/winter riff on traditional garments worn by Hasidic Jews. Sparkle yarmulke? Indeed. Unlike my fellow museum visitors, I, for one, am at a loss for clever retort. I turn instead to the words of Gaultier himself, which are offered generously on the walls throughout this large exhibit. Gaultier has the following to offer:
"The catalyst for the Chic Rabbis collection was a trip to New York in the early 1990s. I saw a group of rabbis leaving the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. I found them very beautiful, very elegant, with their hats and their huge coats flapping in the wind. It was a fantastic scene. I was afraid that the collection would be poorly received. I knew reactions might be mixed, that some might feel offended and find my approach ridiculous. But the fashion press was very enthusiastic."
And on like this. Elsewhere, a Gaultier quotation reads: "The first fetish I did was the corset. That was because of my grandmother." Provocation is at the heart of the show. And inside the show's cheek? The tongue, of course. What prevails is an exhilarating and mischievous air of "getting away with it," or even "asking for it." This exhibition, like the designer it puts on display, is unafraid to throw words like "ridiculous" within the viewing public's reach. I wonder what's more daring — that, or the black, beaded crotch I saw in the room before this one? Self-awareness, even slight self-deprecation, at times, makes for an over-the-top show that is inhabitable, even relatable.
As much as it is about bondage couture and signature striped sailor shirts, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier is unquestionably about society, cultural taboo, and collective reaction
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk
de Young Museum