It takes one look at Jean Paul Gaultier’s childhood teddy bear to see the start of a visionary’s illustrious life in fashion. Nana, his worn, well-loved, and nearly threadbare toy, has dark eyebrows and green shadow hand-drawn above its black button eyes, red lips where there were none, and–most notably–a miniature cone bra fashioned from old newspapers. Yes, the pointed corset made famous by Madonna on her Blonde Ambition tour was first fitted on a stuffed animal.
Now, after over three decades producing the hautest of haute couture, the French designer is getting his due in his first solo exhibition. The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk originated at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and is currently on view at the De Young Museum in San Francisco (a city that welcomes iconoclasts and one-of-a-kinds with wide open arms). Following his playful motto of “equality, diversity, and perversity,” Gaultier’s collections are modeled by unique–and only slightly creepy–“living” mannequins designed by JoliCouer International. Human faces, including Gaultier’s, are projected onto their flat visages, coupled with corresponding voices that give the figures a sentient effect.
The installation is more than a display of impeccably crafted clothes. In addition to the gowns, garments, and accessories, exclusive fashion photography by the likes of David LaChapelle, Richard Avedon, and Mario Testino is on display, showing a keen appreciation for the medium that has likely done more for spreading the gospel of high design to the masses through the years than any über-exclusive runway show.
From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk will be on view at the De Young through August 19th before heading to the Dallas Museum of Art.