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DUBAI: They say it is easier to view a Picasso up-close in a museum than a Jean-Paul Gaultier dress.

The Great French Designer and his unique dresses are finally being shown in the Middle East as part of the retrospective “Jean-Paul Gaultier, from A to Z” at France’s Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai.

In all, these are some 40 haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces which represent almost half a century of rebellion and explore Gaultier’s influences, obsessions and inspirations.

Herb Ritts, Jean Paul Gaultier, Tokyo, 1990 © Herb Ritts Foundation / Trunk Archives

It is a real journey through which one can see and nearly touch the outfits of stars including Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marion Cotillard, and Cate Blanchett. Also on display are the legendary corsets created for Madonna that she wore for her MDNA Tour, and the beautiful butterfly corset worn by Dita von Teese.

“This is the first time I’ve come to Dubai and I am delighted,” Gaultier told Arab News. “It is a very inspiring and beautiful place. There is a positive energy here, a beautiful light, a beautiful architecture. It is the city of the future, I like it, it is inspiring,” he added.

Gaultier, also dubbed “The bad boy of fashion,” often dressed women in corsets. Although this accessory can be perceived as a symbol of suffering and submission to beauty standards established by men, the fashion designer glorified in his creations an image of powerful and emancipated women.

His inspiration were women with a strong and independent character like Frida Kahlo. “I wanted to express my admiration for her,” the artist explained by showing the dress that bears the Mexican painter’s name, during Arab News’ tour of the exhibition.

Madonna was, without a shadow of a doubt, another strong inspiration. For her, Gaultier created the famous corset. He worked with the American star on multiple shows. “She is a very strong woman. I admire her music as well as the provocation she represents. She is passionate and that is important for any creator,” he said.

Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 1994 Ready-to-Wear collection, Tattoos by Ellen Von
Unwerth, models Laetitia Casta, Vladimir McCary, Jenny Shimizu, 1994.

“I started my career in the 1970s. I was working for Cardin, Patou, very classic high-couture houses,” he said. However, for the artist who revived the sailor shirt to become a trend and who dressed men in skirts, fashion must express “the evolution of society, its transformation.

“I wanted to show that women were strong and that man could be venal or fragile, sensual, ideas that were prohibited at the time. The archetypal man rather looked like John Wayne!” he said.

Inclusivity fused with a social message

Created under the authority of his curator, Thierry-Maxime Loriot, this seventeenth exhibition on Gaultier reflects, through his work, a singular aesthetic characterized by a deep humanism. The legendary blonde, with a contagious laugh, has reinterpreted and infringed on the often rigid codes of haute couture and ready-to-wear, but also those of our society, in a funny and malicious manner.

Jean-Paul Gaultier, “The bad boy of fashion", has often dressed women in corset.
The famous fashion designer has built his reputation on his avant-garde style that
breaks the laws of haute couture. Supplied

He created “an inclusive mode with a social message,” according to Loriot. “I think it is important to convey a universal message on diversity and these different values. It is something that exists less in today’s fashion, which is perhaps more artificial,” he told Arab News.

These values that tackle the most pressing issues facing society have been constantly expressed by the fashion designer throughout his career.

He had humble beginnings. “When I started, I had no money. It is a good start: it forces you to be creative,” said Gaultier. “I converted a plastic bag into a dress. I created a fashion piece that way.” He also likes “transforming the old into something new.”

From work of art to multiple beauties

Loriot said: “It was also necessary to pay tribute to multiple beauties and different cultures — elements that Jean-Paul Gaultier mixes marvelously.”

“It may be because I am different myself that I am attracted to those who are different from others,” said Gaultier. “I really like chubby women, I showcased many,” he added. “When I started, in 1976, I saw different kinds of beauty, be it in Morocco, India, Japan, Mongolia or Africa. I wanted to show this diversity. All this inspires me, like the different beauty types of my models.”

The famous fashion designer has built his reputation on his avant-garde style that
breaks the laws of haute couture. Supplied

The street is the main source of inspiration for the French designer. It is a unique universe where crossbreeding and multiculturalism, androgyny and metamorphoses, women of power and the male object intersects and meets the exceptional know-how of the haute couture workshops.

“These are extremely fragile works,” said Benjamin, one of Gaultier’s long-time collaborators who had come to help install the exhibition. Benjamin has been working for years at the haute couture workshop of “Monsieur.”

A remarkable example of one of Gaultier’s intricate creations is his leopard dress. Designed in collaboration with house Lesage, which specializes in high-couture embroidery, it required 1,700 hours to complete. To provide the added cheetah print, pearls were sewn in by hand over a year.

The beautiful butterfly corset worn by Dita von Teese is among the creations currently on displayed at the French pavillion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Supplied

The late Andy Warhol perhaps best sums up Gaultier’s creations as works “of art.”

Accompanied by his muses and models — Farida Khelfa, Nabilla Benattia and Miss France 2016 Iris Mittenaere — Gaultier, who retired in 2020, crossed his dressing room in Dubai. His movement was perhaps similar to the manner in which we traverse his memories and view his life’s work: With a certain dose of nostalgia, no doubt.

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