"I’ve always felt truly at home in London," said Jean Paul Gaultier, wearing a long black skirt with a white shirt and tie, at the opening bash for his exhibition at the Barbican on Monday night. “I wanted this show to be an homage to the good times I’ve had in London."
The designer came to London during his teenage years to escape Paris’s snobby fashion and couture world. Now, after eight stops in cities from Montreal to Brooklyn to Dallas, the London show is opening one year before arriving in Paris at the Grand Palais.
From the seedy clubs of Brixton to S&M parties to the punk shops of Camden, Gaultier has always drawn from London’s rebellious streets to create his grandiose mashup of references, blending mohawks, tattoos, piercings, elements from ethnic costumes, lingerie and couture. Just like punk rejected standard ideals of beauty and social norms, the designer celebrated difference, working with atypical models and radically changing the history of fashion.
At the particularly festive opening party, Rufus Wainwright, who appeared for a surprise solo performance, claimed Gaultier was the inspiration who allowed him to embrace his individuality in his late teens. “I went to Paris with my mother and we visited the Gaultier store,” he remembered, wearing a silk kimono by the designer. “I realized that it was ok to be who I was.”
A lady coiffed and dressed like the Queen of England trotted around the room in a white satin gown and tiara. Erin O’Connor and Jade Parfitt, two of Gaultier’s muses, were also in the crowd, alongside men in gowns, women with sea punk hair dyes and sculptural hats, porn actors in suits and Gaultier’s creative family, which includes model Farida Khelfa, photographer Stéphane Sednaoui, hairstylist Odile Gilbert and milliner Stephen Jones.
"Gaultier came to me to ask me to design hats for him," said Jones. "I always loved his individuality."
Waiters in striped shirts refilled guests’ champagne glasses while two models -- bare save for pink satin corsets and slips -- flashed smiles at guests.
Visitors of this installment of the touring exhibition will find unique features, including a section highlighting the designer’s British muses including Amy Winehouse, Boy George, Kate Moss and David Bowie. An entire room is dedicated to "Eurotrash," the irreverent television show hosted by Gaultier and Antoine de Caunes on British television in the '90s. A film program curated by the designer and a collection of his graphic design work at the London College of Fashion also accompany the exhibition, which includes 40 percent more pieces that any of the previous ones.
To continue the celebration, there is a pop-up Bar Gaultier, filled with his furnishings and serving thematic cocktails, at the museum.
At the opening Gaultier told the crowd that he had always loved having sex with British men; now he's making his love affair with London official.
The exhibit is on display at the Barbican from now until August 25.