Jean Paul Gaultier launches new cabaret show in legendary Paris venue

Published 28th September 2018
Credit: ©TS3, Photo: Boby
Jean Paul Gaultier launches new cabaret show in legendary Paris venue
Written by Jessica Bumpus, CNN
Even incredibly successful fashion designers still have dreams. Jean Paul Gaultier, the original Parisian enfant terrible (and one-time Eurotrash presenter) was nine years old when he first had aspirations of showing his bear, Nana, all dressed up in feathers, at Folies Bergère.
Some five odd decades later and that dream finally comes true as the designer launches his first fashion revue at the legendary Paris venue: a storytelling of his life titled "Fashion Freak Show."
It's a vibrant dance extravaganza that takes the viewer through the Gaultier early years in school -- when his teacher tried to embarrass him for creativity over non-conformity -- to his first forays into fashion, his debut catwalk show in the 1970s, the influential London punk scene, the 1990s dance and supermodel years, right up until today.

'I still love fashion'

Gaultier, responsible among other things for Madonna's iconic cone corset silhouette, the enduring appeal of the Breton stripe, the sailor fashion trope that knows no bounds (even seen again on the Paris Fashion Week catwalks again this week at Chloe in knotted cord), has had quite the career.
"I still love fashion, it is my life, but I was always saying I will do a revue one day and it is that day," said the designer backstage before the show's premiere as dancers took to the stage to stretch it out. He recalls as child: "I loved it [Folies Bergère] so much that I think I wanted to do something like that -- the feathers, the glitter -- so I took my teddy bear and put some feathers on him."
Jean Paul Gaultier with his teddy bear.
Jean Paul Gaultier with his teddy bear. Credit: Laurent Seroussi
That same bear makes for the subject of the opening number in a series of tinsel tributes, busting some moves in said conical corsetry -- later on there comes a London punk sex club scene, an homage to the 1990s trend for excess, botox and all, and a semi-nude finale celebrating beauty in all of its natural forms.
"I definitely wanted to be a couturier," said Gaultier, who imagined the entire spectacular as a visual tableaux, teaming up with Tonie Marshall as co-director and Nile Rogers on the music to bring it all to life.
"I think truly that fashion, some people find it frivolous and, yes, it is and it's good that it is frivolous but through fashion you can do a lot of things, show a lot of things, say a lot of things, you can pretend, you can express yourself, or you can communicate through fashion what's happening in society."
All of which now seems especially pertinent in today's socially and politically-charged landscape. "If you're the right designer, it's because you think, you [understand] what's happening in society and you make propositions of how society is going. I did it instinctively because I [understood] it."
It's for all of these reasons that the designer has found himself working with the likes of Madonna and Boy George over the years, helping them to celebrate and define their individually iconic stage presence.
"Of course, to work with Madonna was quite fantastic, that I cannot deny because I was also a fan and she was wearing my clothes. Madonna is incredible and at the same time she was saying something I was saying about the power of the woman, so I felt in some ways close to her about that," says Gaultier.
©TS3, Photo: Boby

Churning out ideas

This isn't the designer's first foray into stage and screen -- Gaultier designed the costumes for the cult sci-fi film "The Fifth Element," was co-host of the irreverent television show Eurotrash long before fellow designer Michael Kors took his mercurial turn on television as co-judge of Project Runway. And he has been perpetually referenced by designers time and again, whether it be through costume, collection or the renowned male and female forms of his perfume bottles.
Essentially, if you thought you had a new idea, think again: Gaultier has most likely already beaten you to it.
"I feel proud and happy because even if it's copying it's like a reconnaissance, what I was doing before was more underground but now it is more popular so I am very happy about that," he acknowledges graciously.
Also charged with the title "enfant terrible", the designer however is reluctant to lay claim to that crown now but notes he is still one in spirit. "I am 66 so you can't say enfant terrible. Now I'm more calm and quiet." Certainly, five hours before the curtain call of his life (this is a biography after all), Gaultier was, as final lighting decisions were being made, last rehearsals wrapping up, sequins sparkling and feathers a flutter backstage.
©TS3, Photo: Boby
And five decades later, Gaultier still very much has his finger on the pulse, especially given today's emphasis on equality. "Because I was surrounded by women I was very shocked when I started out in fashion to hear for example that women were [seen as] an object -- be beautiful and shut up, even films said that.
For example, things that always shock me [are] when you see the man's jacket style on a woman and you see there is no pocket here [gestures to chest]. Why? The men have. Why? Because men have the wallet so it means something -- it means a woman knows she doesn't pay. I say yes women can also pay."
Some might say provocateur, others enfant terrible. Or you could simply call it modern-day thinking.
Jean Paul Gaultier's Fashion Freak Show opens Oct. 2, 2018 at the Folies Bergère in Paris.