I Want My JPG!

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk (on view through August 19 at the de Young) reveals the limitless cross cultural influences at play in the work of Jean Paul Gaultier. Throughout his career, Gaultier has drawn inspiration from diverse formats ranging from film and television, technology, street and club culture, and, of course, music. Pop music and its reigning superstars have continuously stimulated the creative drive of fashion’s enfant terrible. Perhaps most famous for the iconic costumes created in collaboration with Madonna for her 1990 Blond Ambition tour, Gaultier has seamlessly integrated music and its larger-than-life personalities into his unique fashion world.

Madonna's corset

Emil Larsson, Body corset worn by Madonna, Blond Ambition World Tour, 1990. Dazed & Confused, April 2008. © Emil Larsson

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Gaultier spent many weekends in London observing the outrageous street culture there. During this period, the explosive sights and sounds of punk culture were inescapable, and their influences can be seen throughout Gaultier’s oeuvre.

Punk cancan

Jean Paul Gaultier. First collection. Women's prêt-à-porter spring/summer 1977. 30th anniversary runway show, October 2006. © Patrice Stable/Jean Paul Gaultier

Punk’s dominance–like its music–was fast and furious, and it was soon superseded by the new wave of the New Romantics. When Gaultier first met Boy George, then the lead singer of Culture Club, the designer was immediately attracted to the singer’s gender-bending style. Years later, Gaultier asked Boy George to walk in the Andro-Jeans prêt-à-porter runway show, a favor about which Boy George said, “He is really the only person I would have done it for.”

Boy George

Andro-Jeans collection, Men’s prêt-à-porter spring/summer 1993, model: Boy George

In 1989, Gaultier himself ventured into the world of house music with his idiosyncratic single Aow Tou Dou Zat (How To Do That).

The video consists of Gaultier voicing a few ideas over an up tempo house beat to which models wearing his designs vogue, pose and dance. This high-spirited, totally 80s song exemplifies the designer’s holistic integration of music and fashion.

Throughout his career, Gaultier has dressed a huge variety of music’s most notable performers including, Tina Turner, Nirvana, Lady Gaga, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Depeche Mode, Beyoncé, Kylie Minogue–the exhibition’s poster girl–and, of course, Madonna.

On October 15, 1989, the designer received a phone call from Herb Ritts, “the Virgin’s anointed photographer,” asking if Gaultier would be interested in designing costumes for Madonna’s upcoming Blond Ambition tour. What followed was a match made in pop culture heaven.

Madonna at de Young

Photo courtesy FAMSF

Gaultier and Madonna were both interested in expanding the boundaries of traditional gender roles. According to Madonna, it was Gaultier’s “Gender confusion, the way he mixed masculinity and femininity,” that motivated her to pick him to design the Blond Ambition costumes.

Both Madonna and Boy George cite Gaultier’s interest in blurring gender lines as a truly iconoclastic statement being made at that time, and Madonna credits this aspect of their collaboration with the lasting impact the Blond Ambition tour designs made.

Members of the MTV generation may always remember Jean Paul Gaultier as the purveyor of the iconic cone bra; but as an indefatigable connoisseur of popular culture, Gaultier continues to reinvent the relationship between fashion and music.

Let your inner diva out at The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, currently on view at the de Young.