The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier at the Barbican

Before I went to this exhibition, I didn't know much about Jean Paul Gaultier beyond his Classique perfume (the one with the corset-shaped bottle) and vague memories of staying up late watching him on Eurotrash when I was a teenager. However, after a rave review from a colleague, I decided to check it out last weekend whilst Nick was on his stag do. I also took a ridiculous amount of pictures - photography is encouraged which is always a nice change! - so apologies in advance that this post is ridiculously pic-heavy...

The exhibition is split into various sections focussing on a different theme of Gaultier's work and recurring motifs, from Breton stripes and corsets to religious imagery and punk chic. I really loved his use of presenting classic images and designs in unusual ways, such as Madonnas dressed in black, mermaids on crunches or stripes reworked in feathers and lace.

These mannequins had faces projected on to them that moved and spoke - brilliant if a little bit creepy! Whilst on the subject of the mannequins, I really liked that they weren’t all white but instead designed to reflect different ethnicities, mirroring Gaultier’s use of models who aren’t conventionally beautiful.

Is it a bit wrong that I want one of these chairs for my flat?

Gaultier is particularly famous for his corsets (he shot to fame after designing an infamous beautiful pink corset for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour in the early 1990s) so not surprisingly there were loads of corsets and corset-style dresses and outfits dotted throughout the exhibition:

Yes, that is a teddy bear wearing a bra. Apparently this was Gaultier's first ever attempt at corset-making when he was a kid.

The legendary Madonna corset. It's so detailed up close - just amazingly put together and such fantastic craftsmanship.

At first I just thought 'Ooh that's a nice dress', but then I looked closer...

One of the things I loved about the exhibition was it celebrated Gaultier's willingness to push the envelope and turn conventions on their heads. Whether that's putting men in skirts and corsets, vein and muscle bodysuits or 'pregnancy' corsets, it showed he has no fear of being different which is something that I always like in a designer.

Many of Gaultier's designs look very theatrical and as well as wardrobes for pop stars' tours (more on that later), he's also designed a number of costumes for ballets and films, particularly those by Pedro Almodovar. I particularly loved this tiger costume for The Skin In Live In  - complete with tail - and this amazing dress which is made of ribbons printed to look like rolls of film.

As for many designers two of Gaultier's big influences are fashion and nature, but again I love the way he plays with conventions such as adding an amazing Native American headdress to a wedding gown, mocking up a cheetah skin for a dress or making backpacking in Mongolia look glamorous. I am seriously coveting that coat with the huge fur-trimmed hood and silky pink pyjama pants. Plus again it's going back to the use of unusual materials to craft his ensembles - including, in a creepy yet fascinating way, an umbrella made of real human hair.

I love this carousel of chic dresses influenced by the romantic ideal of Paris, whether that's gorgeous can-can skirts under masculine coats, the use of Eiffel Tower motifs in sequins or as back panels or the impeccably tailored suits. I'm also very tempted to recreate the look of the girl in the grey skirt myself (minus the cigarette of course. Smoking is bad for you, kids).

I love this outfit - it's the kind of thing I'd try to recreate myself if I was feeling girly but wanted to toughen up my look a bit.

Love Gaultier tapping into the punk ethos here with a skirt and dress made out of ties. And that top hat is just epic.

 I loved all the punk stuff in the exhibition - it just really embraced the spirit of that do-it-yourself ethos but in the way of taking ordinary fabrics like denim, tartan or camo gear and making them into the most beautiful dresses. Again it's always those little details of taking an image you think you know and adding something that just lifts it perfectly.

As I mentioned above Gaultier had many celebrity fans, and he himself was a huge fan of Amy Winehouse, even dedicating a collection to her. I love this outfit in particular as it's just so classic Winehouse, but there is also a beautiful floral dress in the exhibition that I could envisage her wearing to an awards do.

Gaultier was also key in helping stars establish their 'look' - this is an outfit he designed for Boy George and it is pretty much his entire aesthetic in the Culture Club era in a nutshell.

I really love these two outfits Gaultier designed for Kylie; the beautiful gorgeous floaty Madonna dress (worn for a photograph called The Virgin and the Serpents which is pretty much Gaultier in one image) and then this update to the 'Madonna corset' complete with American flag feather boa and see-through shoes that she wore on one of her tours.

Again these two outfits, both worn by Lily Cole, are a great example of that contrast in Gaultier's work between the feminine pastel Madonna look and the tough, sexy, slinky Diana Rigg in The Avengers-meets-English businessman catusuit/bowler hat/umbrella combo.

Finally, we have this beautiful black velvet corset dress worn by Dita Von Teese. I love this because it is so true to her style but also still embracing that Gaultier 'look' of mixing sexy and feminine, with a touch of Gothic and an amazingly flattering cut.

Overall I think this is my favourite fashion exhibition of the year so far. It's a real celebration of Gaultier's work and is really strongly driven by his aesthetic whilst retaining a thread through all of it that ties it all together - a sense of craftsmanship, creativity, desire to create something beautiful, playful and above all a lot of fun. I really do recommend you pay a visit as the clothes are so beautiful and detailed that you need to see them for yourself. It's not the cheapest exhibition ever at £14.50 but considering I was in there for the best part of two hours I'd say it's definitely worth it.

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier is on at the Barbican until Monday, so if you haven't yet got any plans for the Bank Holiday weekend then go go go!


  1. WOW I am incredibly jealous this exhibition looks amazing, such awesome fashion- creepy but awesome manikins!!! I really wish I could check this out, payday can't come quick enough xx

    Blonde of carbs

  2. Wow this exhibition looks incredible! I wish I could get down there to see it for myself! As I unfortunately can't I'm so glad you took loads of photos!
    Oh and I really like your blog so I nominated you for a Liebster award which you can read about here if you'd like to?