Monday, 5 May 2014

Fashionable London: The Glamour of Italian Fashion vs The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier

For my birthday, The Bloke (yes we're still a thing, believe me we're as surprised as you are) got me a couple of exhibition tickets. When I say 'a couple', I mean single tickets for me to go to two exhibitions I'd been talking about seeing. On my own. He thought they looked boring. Romance.

Anyway, unencumbered by a bored and complaining middle aged man (love you baby) I headed off for a very fashionable Easter Saturday taking in The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 - 2014 at the V&A and The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the Barbican.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion is, as the name suggests, an overview of the work of the Italian design houses in the post-war period. And it's a comprehensive overview with menswear and womenswear, couture and ready to wear and shoes and accessories all covered. Set out chronologically, the exhibition is well curated and the explanatory displays throughout the rooms are really informative and accessible (trans: idiot proof).

It's impossible to leave the exhibition without a sense of the enormous debt that fashion in general, and couture in particular, owe to the Italian fashion industry. Some of the pieces are absolutely stunning. The 1950s couture displays were my favourites - the craftsmanship is mind blowing and they're just beautiful to look at. Seeing some of Liz Taylor's favourite Bulgari jewels is a thrill too.

That said, I felt like there could have been more. Yes, the clothes were beautiful but when you consider all that Italian fashion has done, all the drama and the innovation, the exhibition just felt a bit lacking. Good, not great, but worth seeing.

Across town, and the Barbican's Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition is another kettle of fish altogether. The Fashion World is a restrospective of the career of Jean Paul Gaultier. Spread over two floors of the Barbican's art gallery, it covers everything from his couture gowns to stage costumes for the likes of Kylie and Madonna to his corsetry work to his ubiquitous Breton striped tops.

And it's absolutely fantastic.

I don't think I've ever seen an exhibition that I genuinely think is a must see before but this is definitely one. Even if you're not interested in fashion, you should go.

It's not just the breadth of work on display - and how stunning it is - that makes this exhibition something special, though that alone is certainly special. It's the innovative way it's presented. In contrast to the traditional 'here are some things, they're in case or behind a rope, don't get too close and don't even think of taking photos' approach of most exhibitions (The Glamour of Italian Fashion included), The Fashion World shows its pieces on animated mannequins that talk and sing to you. There are no cases or ropes. You're encouraged to get up close and take photos (as long as you don't touch or use flash).

Here's the man himself welcoming guests to his exhibition:

Jean Paul Gaultier greets you in room one of The Fashion World

It's hard to pick a favourite piece from this exhibition, but for me the pieces from JPG's mermaid collection were definitely up there.

Marion Cotillard wore the white version of this stunning gold and black gown to The Oscars a few years ago:

And the detail on this corset is breathtaking:

Detailing generally is one of the things I loved most about all of the work on display. And because the display is so cleverly done you can actually get up close and fully appreciate it - none of the photos in this post were taken with a zoom of any kind. Here are a couple of my favourite bits of detailing:

Jet beading on a denim evening gown
'Pin stripe' made of buttons
Leopard 'skin' made of beads with rhinestone 'claws'

That beaded leopard 'skin' with rhinestone 'claws' has to be seen to be believed.

And of course no Gaultier exhibition would be complete without some of his trademark cone bra corsets, as worn by Madonna:

I really can't praise this exhibition highly enough. See it, see it now.


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