Gaultier’s Witty and Daring Designs

Brooklyn Museum
Oct 28, 2013 4:03PM

Gaultier’s reputation for witty and daring designs and a ceaseless interest in society, identity, and beauty born of difference has earned him a place in fashion history. The Brooklyn presentation includes Gaultier costumes never before seen in New York, such as items graciously lent by Madonna, like her iconic corsets from the Blond Ambition world tour (1990), as well as costumes from the Confessions tour (2006) and the MDNA tour (2012). Costumes created for Kylie Minogue, Pedro Almodóvar’s Kika (1994) and Bad Education (2004), and Luc Besson’s Fifth Element (1996) will also be part of the exhibition.

This theatrically­-staged show, more of a contemporary installation than a chronological retrospective, features 130 haute couture and prêt­à­porter ensembles accompanied by audiovisual materials, sketches, early designs, and photographs, all of which testify to Gaultier’s daring, cutting­-edge style and the genius and breathtaking craftsmanship of his creations. Gaultier’s rich collaborations with renowned contemporary artists and photographers such as Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, David LaChapelle, Pierre & Gilles, Herb Ritts, Cindy Sherman, Peter Lindbergh, Stéphane Sednaoui, and Mario Testino, among others, is a major focus of attention.

The Odyssey

This thematic section of the exhibition introduces us to the couturier’s universe and his trademark themes. Sailors, mermaids, and religious iconography set the tone. Gaultier’s very first design (1971), never before exhibited, is on display. It features stage costumes worn by Beyoncé, as well as dresses created for Catherine Deneuve and Marion Cotillard to wear to the Oscars.

The Boudoir

The exhibition’s Boudoir section reveals the designer’s fascination with lingerie and corsetry through the years, from his childhood teddybear “Nana” wearing the first cone bra, created in the early 1960s, to his many designs for his men’s and women’s couture and ready­to­wear lines as well as for Hermès, where he was creative director from 2003 to 2010. This section features Gaultier’s trailblazing conical bras and corsets made for Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition world tour and 2012 MDNA tour.


The Muses section shows how the couturier created a new ideal of beauty, beyond the established codes of fashion and society, celebrating difference by erasing all boundaries of body size, skin color, age, religion, and sexuality.

Punk Cancan

Punk Cancan demonstrates the contrasting styles and themes Gaultier has blended throughout his career, from Parisian classicism and elegance to London punk, which he discovered and embraced from its inception. Parisian icons and symbols, such as the beret, the trench coat, and the Eiffel Tower, are transformed under the influence of the imagery of Pigalle’s Paris. London’s tattooed punks, wearing latex, leather, lace, and fishnet, take on new meaning as symbols of elegant, convention defying power. This section features the chiffon camouflage dress that required 312 hours to make worn by New York style icon Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards.

Skin Deep

This section illustrates how Gaultier creates clothing that becomes a second skin, sometimes through trompe l’oeil effects that give the illusion of nudity, a flayed human body, a skeleton, or tattoos.


This section showcases Gaultier’s collaborations with filmmakers; choreographers such as Marice Béjart, Angelin Preljocaj, and Régine Chopinot; and pop icons such as Tina Turner, Nirvana, Cameo, Lady Gaga, and Kylie Minogue. Borrowing from the emerging sounds of new wave and house music in the 1970s, Gaultier explored the fields of high technology and science fiction. Since his first pieces of electronic jewelry and the High­Tech collection of 1979, he has stayed ahead of the fashion pack, integrating contemporary fashion fabrics not meant for the catwalk, including vinyl, Lycra, and neoprene. This section presents for the first time pieces from one of the designer’s summer collections inspired by pop musicians such as Grace Jones, Boy George, Sade, Madonna, and David Bowie.

Urban Jungle

Urban Jungle is where cultures from around the world come together to form a new aesthetic integrated in haute couture. Gaultier mixes and matches multiethnic influences—Bedouin, orthodox Jewish, Chinese, flamenco, Russian, Bollywood, and Nordic—in what he refers to as the urban jungle.
Brooklyn Museum