National Gallery of Victoria National Gallery of Victoria

17 Oct 2014 — 8 Feb 2015

Urban Jungle

I respect individualities and I like particularities. I mix and match, collect, twist and crossbreed codes. Past, present, here, elsewhere, masculine, feminine, remarkable, humdrum—it all coexists. - Jean Paul Gaultier

Fascinated by differences, Jean Paul Gaultier sees stylistic hunting grounds in those realms untouched by the hallowed halls of fashion. Transposing, reappropriating and assembling, he gives shape to transborder crossfertilisation. Societies and individuals separated by language, custom and geography merge into a world whose passports proclaim 'Planet Gaultier.' Through his designs, the couturier orchestrates an intercultural dialogue.

Starting in the Return of Prints collection (spring-summer 1984), Gaultier created a unique new mixture of Africa and Europe by making boubous out of tunics and mini-skirts and covering his models’ heads in fezzes. His Barbès collection (autumn-winter 1984–1985) forayed deeper into culture shock. In it, the designer reinvented happy accidents observed in the streets of the Parisian neighbourhood where he has never tired of strolling. He sees it as:

A melting pot of peoples, and this intermixing, this splendid vibrancy symbolises the new Paris.
The designer erases the boundaries he observes within the many tribes of the urban jungle: the Bedouins of Barbès, geishas at the Louvre, African marabouts, chic rabbis, Chinese women dressed as flamenco dancers, Russian icons, Bollywood maharajahs. He has invented a new aesthetic that reflects the mix of cultures and peoples in the major urban centres of today. Hanging in the wardrobe those results can be found: Chinese satin brocade pants, kimonos, Eastern European peasant blouses, Mongolian vests, Greek fustanellas, Masai necklaces, sarouel pants, fezzes and turbans. He has also explored the exotic world of the animal kingdom by creating hybrid bodies through a process of surrealistic reinterpretation: women morph into parrots, adorn themselves with trompe l’oeil beaded leopard pelts, or slip into a studded python skin number, sharkskin jumpsuit or feather dress.

In a context of globalised markets where the majority imposes generic fashion and minorities cut themselves off in ghettos, when multicultural thinking falters before the challenge of integration, Jean Paul Gaultier reassembles the parts of the whole to make way for a multi-ethnic personality. He thinks of society as a cocktail—mixed, stirred, spiced, varied, decompartmentalised. The product of a single melting pot, society no longer consists of groups indifferent to one another while living side by side. It is made up of individuals, and each of them tells the story of our diversity.