PARIS — Life, more than ever, is a 24/7 cabaret for Jean Paul Gaultier who is in the midst of preparing his first stage production, “Fashion Freak Show,” scheduled to open at the Folies Bergère on Oct. 2, 2018.
The event marks a symbolic aligning of stars for the couturier for whom taking in footage of the Folies Bergère at his grandmother’s as a young boy, on a black and white TV, triggered a creative awakening.
Described as falling “somewhere between a revue and a fashion show,” the show, based on Gaultier’s life story, will open with that very scene, going on to capture other key life moments like the first time he laid eyes on a corset (in his grandmother’s wardrobe); being hired as Pierre Cardin’s studio assistant at 18; his first fashion show, and the unveiling of his first man skirt in his spring 1984 Boy Toy collection.
Throughout, the couturier will tip his hat to personalities from the worlds of film, dance and music with whom he has collaborated over the years, like Pedro Almodóvar, Luc Besson, Angelin Preljocaj, Régine Chopinot, Kylie Minogue and Madonna whose iconic cone-bra bustier — one of over 150 costumes he designed for the pop star’s “Blond Ambition World Tour” in 1990 — will feature in the show. Spanning disco, funk, pop, rock, New Wave and punk, a soundtrack of his favorite hits will also feature.
No stranger to the world of stage and screen, Gaultier said designing the 500-odd costumes for the Berlin revue, The One Grand Show, in 2016 got his juices flowing. Here, for the first time, he sports the author, director and set designer caps. “This is my baby,” said the couturier who brought in actress, script writer and director Tonie Marshall to codirect the revue, and Marion Motin, who has worked with talents including Madonna, Christine and the Queens, and Stromae, to oversee the choreography.
It won’t all be campy cabaret high-kicking and feathers, though. Losing his life and business partner Francis Menuge to AIDS in 1990 will also feature in the storyline, as well as his work with amfAR.
Starring actors, dancers and circus artists, the show will mix in video, dialogue and song. Gaultier, whose bosom buddies include burlesque star Dita Von Teese, said the show will feature guest appearances, and will include interaction with the public. The designer himself will make an appearance on video, and will possibly put in a wave at the end of the show. The costumes will be a mix of new creations and archive pieces, including the tutu, motorcycle jacket and bustier from his first collection.
“It will be a revue based on a life in fashion; the journalists, the backstage action with the models,” said Gaultier. “It’s all about what we know, only with more feathers and glamour.”
WWD: This literally is your childhood dream come true.
Jean Paul Gaultier: Definitely. You know how it all started for me? As a child I was often at my grandma’s — Mémé Garabé — and she used to let me watch anything on TV. I remember one night, I was nine years old, and they were screening the premiere of the Folies Bergère. It was in black and white and there used to only be one channel back then….There was the director of the theater and his wife, who was very well-dressed, and then down from the ceiling came these two dancers in fishnets, ostrich feathers and glittering diamonds, like an apparition. I was transfixed, I found it so beautiful. That night I put some feathers on my teddy bear, Nana, then the next day during class at school I started daydreaming and did a sketch of the dancers in their outfits, but the teacher spotted me. She made me stand up, rapped my knuckles with a ruler, made me stand on a platform and tacked the sketch to my back using safety pins — so already very punk. To humiliate me, she made me do a tour of all the classrooms, only it had the opposite effect….The kids were all smiling and laughing and asking me to do sketches for them. It’s at that point that I realized, as the kid who had always been rejected for not being good at soccer, that the key to being liked was doing sketches. After that I would go to see all of the productions and operettas in Paris; it was all those dreamy things on TV that made me fall in love with this idea of the show.
WWD: Jacques Becker’s 1945 film “Falbalas” (“Paris Frills”) was also a major influence on you.
J.P.G.: Yes, it was set in the world of couture and was such an education for me, with the old school catwalk shows in the salons — again, it was related to show. And I loved this idea of the muse, Micheline Presle [the film’s lead]. In my revue, it’s Micheline, who was a major star of the Forties, who will play my grandmother, though she’ll appear on screen, as she’s 95 now.
WWD: And who will be playing you?
J.P.G.: You don’t actually get to see much of me or my boyfriend Francis [Menuge], you’ll see us mainly from the back. It’s about my life, but the true stars of the show are fashion and the revue.
WWD: You’ve always had a theatrical approach to your shows.
J.P.G.: For one of my early shows, at the Grande halle de La Villette, there were 4,000 people fighting to get in. I like to create joy, a bit like an adolescent who wants to have a good time with the people he’s invited over. When I first started to do fashion shows I didn’t have the budget to hire top models so I would cast women who inspired me, and ask them to walk how they walked. For my James Bond collection [fall 1979], I had Edwige, the queen of Paris punk, lip synch “My Way,” only the Sid Vicious version. I was doing a mise en scène, which for me was normal. I love for people to see my clothes, but it was more about the attitude of the girls. The revues of the late 19th century/early 20th century were very much a reflection of what was happening in society and politics, and for me that is also the role of the fashion designer.
WWD: What do you love about cabaret, is it the escapism?
J.P.G.: I like the dynamism and the joy they create. I have always taken my job very seriously, but have always liked to have fun, to play. I like tradition and classicism but I have always liked to mix it up, even if it shocks at times.
WWD: You went to London a lot as a young designer.
J.P.G.: London was a major inspiration, not only for the clothes but the sense of freedom. I remember going to see a stage production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in the mid Eighties and loving the mix of Goth and humor, and in my shows I’ve always liked to play jokes and have fun.
WWD: So there are these contrasting worlds, and in your revue there’s this combination of cabaret and freak show. You count a number of showgirls as bosom buddies, such as Dita Von Teese. What do showgirls represent for you?
J.P.G.: That they bring joy and make people dream. But in my shows I have always featured different types of beauty and people of different race.
WWD: And way ahead of the rest of the world, which is only just catching up. How do you feel about that?
J.P.G.: I like to think I’ve made a good job of it. It’s good that [there is more support of diversity] but there is still a lot of resistance. I never saw it as fighting for a cause, though, for me it was spontaneous, I was doing what felt natural to me. I felt a part of it. I have always been attracted to what is new, interesting, funny, creative, the good things that were happening at that time in the world.
WWD: You chose as the title of your show, “Fashion Freak Show.” “Freak” in essence is a negative word, linked to something considered abnormal. But you’ve always found beauty in that.
J.P.G.: My answer would be: freak c’est chic. For me, difference is beautiful, there is not only one beauty, and in a collection I always like to show mixed directions. It’s like with the tin can [that Gaultier reinterpreted as bracelets in his fall 1980 collection, and that served as the base for the packaging for his original women’s fragrance, Classique], when you look at people or things, there are all these codes and standards that come into play around what is considered ugly or beautiful, and I’ve always questioned that. When you’re a kid, at least that’s how it was in my day, you’re not conditioned, you don’t see perversity, there’s a state of innocence where everything is beautiful, you see differently….I am lucky because I am doing now what I dreamt of doing as a child, and I like to think that I’ve retained a childlike state of mind.
WWD: Which show celebrating difference are you most attached to?
J.P.G.: For me, it’s the tattoo collection [spring 1994, and featuring body stockings evoking elaborately tattooed skin]. Edwige in 1978 already had a tattoo on her ankle, and I remember going to a convention in London where I saw people with tribal scarification marks, tattoos and piercings, all that mix was in the air and I based an entire collection on it. I invited some of the people at the convention to walk in my show, showcasing their tattoos with a few accessories. My message was that you can do what you want with your skin.
WWD: How does your revue end?
J.P.G.: Very well — it’s a happy ending of course.
WWD: Here’s hoping it will travel to Broadway.
J.P.G.: Me too!