Arts & Culture
3:03 pm
Mon November 14, 2011

Gaultier Feels at Home at the DMA

The Dallas Museum of Art has opened a survey of clothing designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s career. KERA’s Stephen Becker looks at why Dallas is one of the only two U.S. stops on the exhibition tour.

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Brian Bolke has carried Jean Paul Gaultier’s collection for three years at Forty Five Ten, his Dallas boutique. And he’s still fascinated by his creations. Take this new tuxedo jumpsuit dress. BOLKE: “It has about 10 re-occurring themes of Gaultier in it. One interesting thing is it appears to be pants from the front, but it’s really a skirt. It’s got man tailoring, but it’s also very sexy. … One thing I love about this look is if you said this was from 1997 or 2007 or 2011, you would believe it.” That timelessness and consistency have kept the French designer in fashion’s top echelon for more than 30 years.

His career is now the subject of “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier - From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.” The exhibition shows off 130 of the designer’s haute couture pieces. The multiroom show has a kinetic energy. Faces projected onto the figures displaying the clothes turn lifeless mannequins become lifelike models who talk, blink and sing. Gaultier’s sailor-striped doppelganger even greets you.

GAULTIER RECORDING: “Hello, welcome. I am Jean Paul Gaultier. I am very happy to receive you here in the Dallas Museum of Art. Enjoy the show.” Even if you can’t place the name with the aesthetic, chances are you’ve been exposed to Gaultier. Remember Madonna's black-and-white video for "Vogue" from 1990? Gender play, underwear as outerwear and that infamous Madonna cone bra – all are essential Gaultier.

His outlandish fascinations with leather, corsets and all things street make for a racy, raucous experience. Kevin Tucker, the DMA’s Curator of Decorative Arts and Design. TUCKER: “He’s a designer, he’s an artist – he’s all of these things. There’s a certain blending – where does one end and the other begin with his work? I think that’s something that comes across very clearly when you see the spectrum of his career.” Art museums are increasingly welcoming fashion designers. A show featuring Spanish designer Balenciaga was a big draw for SMU’s Meadows Museum in 2007. This summer, visitors lined up around the block to see British designer Alexander McQueen’s designs at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And the blockbuster Gaultier show seems like a natural fit for Dallas. The city is home to both Neiman Marcus and FashionCenter Dallas, one of the largest apparel markets in the world. HAYES: “People in fashion know that Dallas is a hugely sophisticated fashion town. There’s a reason that designers come here frequently. … They know that Dallas women love clothes.” Tracy Achor Hayes has covered the fashion beat for The Dallas Morning News for more than 30 years. She acknowledges the stereotype of Dallas as a capital of big hair and bigger bling still exists. But she says those images are outdated. HAYES: “Dallas is an incredibility sophisticated market. People dress here, and people care about clothes here, and they’re not afraid to say it.” Tracy Achor Hayes and the Kevin Tucker will take part in the State of the Arts Conversation at the Dallas Museum of Art on Thursday.