When Jean Paul Gaultier announced the closure of his ready-to-wear line earlier this month, one thing was certain: he would go out with a bang, rather than a whimper. But his shows have become such feature-length productions in recent season anyway that it was difficult to see where he’d go next.
Full on Vaudeville, that’s where, with dancing girls, a compere, drag artists and rehearsed skits. In Paris’s Grand Rex, the biggest cinema auditorium in Europe, Gaultier gave a music hall rendition of his own greatest hits, strung together by the notion of a Miss Jean Paul Gaultier talent contest.
Ultimately the theme was irrelevant – it was the means by which this designer could rifle not only through his extensive archive but also through those ideas that hadn’t fitted, or hadn’t come to fruition, at other points in his career. What this show was, essentially, was a parade of several mini-collections (not that these clothes felt particularly commercial, nor were they meant to), with Gaultier – the man and the mode – a unifying concept.
So we journeyed through mariniere tops, weather girls and footballer’s wives, several incarnations of le smoking, a pack of female lucha libre wrestlers and a segment of older models, each more fabulous than the previous and each, despite diversity, ringing true to the man who created them, in the sharp cuts, the tailoring, the glitz and the glamour. There was corsetry, of course, and shimmer; big shoulders, nipped waists and peg trousers, too.
There was even a section where Gaultier mocked up models as fashion editors – Carine, Franca, Suzy, Emmanuelle and Grace. That felt particularly like a designer making the most of free rein and good will to just have fun with his art.
And the audience had fun too. This wasn’t a show in the normal way, it was an event, a time marker – one of those things you can say ‘yes, I remember when…’ about. And of course it was indulgent – but that indulgence was a two-way street. One felt Gaultier got the send-off he deserved and that the crowd’s rather high expectations had been admirably, and gracefully, met.