On Friday morning I received a call from a friend of mine who works for the BBC. She had a spare ticket to go to the opening of Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show at the Roundhouse and her sister was no longer free so she asked me to join. Of course, this was not something I would turn down. The experience was nothing short of inspiring.
Jean Paul himself was there for opening night and, although wrote the show, does not star in it himself (he is a busy man and 70 years old after all). The show is Cabaret meets stand up comedy meets interactive runway. The cast were mostly French carried over from the original show hosted at Paris’ Folies Bergeres before it became this bigger ordeal at Camden’s Roundhouse. Dancing teddy bears with conical breasts and heads sewn on backwards dance around 1920s Follies dressed in tinselled two pieces. The whole show was a demonstration of Jean Paul’s creative process and mind from childhood to the present day.
The soundtrack in particular stood out featuring Grace Jones and Frankie Goes to Hollywood as well as a very moving acoustic version of Frank Sinatra’s “Under My Skin” sung in French and featuring an accordion. The lyrics were used to symbolise both Jean Paul’s love for his first amoureux Francis as well as Francis’ tragic death from AIDS in the 1980s – a sure tearjerker and inspiring moment to see how Gaultier took this tragedy into his activism with the queer community in Paris and London in the 1980s and how this translated into his designs. Modern music such as Stromae and 00s French house also sat perfectly in a visual, moving moodboard which blended Jean Paul’s nostalgia with his ever-fresh relevancy.
Another element which stood out was Jean Paul’s forward-thinking relationship with gender. A couple of runways (inspired of course by real life collections from the 80s and 90s) featured in the show and showcased designs that stuck a huge middle finger up to gender binaries in fashion. An entire show, in fact, was themed around feminine designs in men’s fashion, presented by a projection of Catherine Denueve anncouning the insiuration behind each look, which ranged from ballgown to show girl looks and androgynous suits with shoulder pants paired with a thong and garter.
My personal favourite part of the show, and a moment which really played with gender and the relationship to fashion, was a male to female strip tease performed by the stellar burlesque dancer Maud’ Amour. Maud entered a turing podium dressed in tailored trousers, a suit and a bowler hat. The striptease took off all these items slowly to reveal a thong and bedazzled garters, bare breasts, a waist corset and as the bowler hat came off, long auburn tresses of hair.
This element, among many others within the Cabaret, truly revealed Gaultier’s comical humour and willingness to be silly, fun and free which still remain a large part of the brand’s appeal.
For any type of artist, I could not recommend this show strongly enough for a surge of saucy inspiration!