JEAN PAUL GAULTIER

Cinema and fashion as a common denominator

The fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, an avid film buff, has dedicated part of his professional career to designing costumes for iconic films, and today he is the protagonist of an exhibition entitled “Cinema and Fashion. By Jean Paul Gaultier”, held at CaixaForum Madrid, and co-organised by Fundación La Caixa and La Cinémathèque Française.

The exhibition proposes an eclectic journey through different genres and styles, uniting cinema and fashion in a luxurious fashion show with top designers and film stars. All from the personal vision of Gaultier who, over and above his obsession with films and fashion fetishes, reflects on the role of both industries as driving forces to transform society.

Contemporary allusions

Divided into five areas, the exhibition reviews the presence of the fashion world of the silver screen, the contributions of great couturiers to film wardrobes, and the creation of male and female archetypes. The enfant terrible of fashion emphasises key aspects such as female empowerment, and pays heed to the influence of the rock, punk and queercore cultures that have had such an impact on fashion in recent years.

The exhibition features works by outstanding designers, such as Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin and Sybilla, in addition to some 80 iconic looks from the silver screen, including dresses worn by Audrey Hepburn, Sharon Stone, Grace Kelly, Catherine Deneuve and Madonna. Gaultier also pays tribute to Spanish fashion and cinema, with allusions to the designer’s referential figures, such as Pedro Almodóvar, Rossy de Palma, Sara Montiel, Javier Bardem, Balenciaga, Paco Rabanne, and even Don Quixote.

Two films take pride of place in the exhibition. The first is Falbalas, a melodrama by Jacques Becker set in the flurry of activity of a post-war couture house. This was the initiatory film discovered by Gaultier at the age of 13, and whose images he transformed into fashion designs. The designer has often commented “Without the Falbalas fashion show, I would never have gone into this business”. The second feature film is William Klein’s “Who are you, Polly Maggoo?”, a satire on the self-centred delusions of the world of haute couture.

In any case, “Cinema and Fashion. By Jean Paul Gaultier” is not an exhaustive history of the relationship between fashion and cinema, but an immersion into the representations of gender roles through costumes. It features ultra-feminised Hollywood femme fatales, such as Mae West and Marilyn Monroe, in figure-hugging gowns with plunging necklines; but also the French star Brigitte Bardot, so often accused of breaching moral customs, at the forefront of simple, young, carefree ready-to-wear fashion.

An unmistakable style

The couturier’s credo has always been to sexualise bodies, feminise male silhouettes, and give prominence to powerful women, in tune with the emerging avant-garde and emancipation movements, always defending the fact that for him, there is not only one type of beauty.

“In 1976, when I presented my first collection in Paris, I was considered non-conformist, far removed from the fine taste of Parisian chic. In fact, only English and Japanese journalists wrote positive reviews of my show. It’s true that I didn’t agree with the dictum that women must be hyper-feminine at any cost. What does that mean exactly? Wearing frilly or patterned dresses, with flowers, with little printed birds? Well that’s not my style!” says Gaultier.

The enfant terrible of fashion was ahead of his time. He made Madonna’s dresses in the 1990s, and promoted the use of skirts for men. He also made a huge impact by featuring non-conventional models, such as older men, curvy women and tattooed models, and by playing with traditional gender roles in his fashion shows. This earned him harsh criticism, but also enormous popularity.

In 2020, Gaultier gave up his catwalk career, bringing a legacy of almost five decades to an end, although the traces of his eccentric personality are not forgotten today. This fact is evident in the exhibition, which can be visited at CaixaForum Madrid until 5th June.

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