With his decision last season to stop designing ready-to-wear after 38 years, Jean Paul Gaultier made a significant statement about the fashion system — too much, too fast, too little time for creative consideration. From now on, he would focus only on couture. Some guests thus brought a heightened sense of anticipation to Gaultier’s couture show on Wednesday. Would he re-embrace the fusion of high chic and high wit that has marked his greatest success? Would he let go of the tired camp-capades dominating his most recent work? Would he finally divorce the Eighties? The answers made for moments of delight — and frustration.
Gaultier started in the affirmative, “Sixty-one ways to say ‘Yes,’” he said backstage of his bridal theme. Yet, iconoclast that he is, this was no white froth convention, but a lineup of alterna-brides and she-grooms, the better to showcase both tailleur and flou. He opened with a model in an ethereal white gown cutaway over briefs, a crown of piled-high hair rollers securing her veil, but then turned immediately to Le Smoking, showing in black, white and combinations, with pants, as dresses and half-and-half. The first inkling of the latter was a dress, black and sleek on one side and white and full-skirted on the other. This led to more such goings on, and while the constructions were interesting and the requisite skill impressive, the ruse grew tired. So did the Eighties riffs, both of the serious and sight-gag variety. Finally, so did the production itself.
Gaultier can’t resist parading out models of yore. Nothing wrong with that; fashion can and probably should have an industry-wide discussion about perceptions of age and the divide between the girls hired to market clothes and the women to whom these clothes are marketed. But a fashion show is a show, a production, 12 minutes of entertainment. That implies some degree of cohesion. With former models French-twisted and gyrating like it’s 1985, current models working their current-model deadpans (and one who desperately wants to be her mother) and Naomi being Naomi, the narrative got confused.
Hence the irritation factor. Gaultier showed some splendid clothes both utterly graceful — exquisitely embellished cardigans; languid hooded robes, some au courant tailoring — and others sprung from his irrepressible wit. Cases in point: a threesome of overalls, baseball jacket and jean shorts. Gaultier transformed each into a gorgeous gown. Tricky? Sure. But in these cases Jokester Gaultier didn’t dominate Couturier Gaultier. If only the latter would hold serve through an entire collection.