Gaultier: A celebration of the subversive

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The Independent Online

A conical bra in rose-pink silk satin. A denim gown with faded indigo feathered skirt. A tailored hounds-tooth check gimp mask complete with small but perfectly formed ears... Yesterday at the Paris collections, Jean Paul Gaultier showed a retrospective collection to celebrate 30 years in fashion and the sheer energy of it all was as extraordinary as it was uplifting.

Given the breadth of talent on view in the French fashion capital today, it is all too easy to forget just how much of an adventurer, and even visionary, this former enfant terrible, who turned 54 this year, has always been. This, then, served as a timely reminder.

Here was the leather biker jacket and studded black underwear as outerwear that launched his career way back when. There was the cage dress worn most famously by Grace Jones at the height of her notoriety. High-heeled rubber flippers rubbed shoulders with sequinned camouflage eveningwear. A tartan jacket with shoulders so wide they would barely make it through the door came out for her one minute, a feathered leather and lace corset for him the next.

Gaultier remains, by still basically bourgeois designer fashion standards, powerfully subversive. Any play on gender - so prevalent just this season - is indebted to this designer. Equally, only Gaultier has consistently sent unusually rounded models out on to his catwalk - this time she was positively huge. And proud. In a similar vein, this is one of very few fashion talents who casts his shows with older women, black women, Asian women... If that should be the norm, it is far from it, and for that alone the designer should be applauded.

It is not insignificant that Gaultier began his career the year that punk was born. He was, of course, based in Paris at the time, but the wilfully anarchic and ultimately democratic spirit which characterised that movement has been present and correct in his work ever since. It is the stuff of fashion legend that, in the mid-1990s, his outré persona as kilt-wearing presenter of Eurotrash lost Gaultier the job as designer-in-chief at Christian Dior. Not to be outdone, he immediately set up his own haute couture atelier, and showed the world - as if it hadn't known it all along - that he was more than man enough to cut a perfect masculine trouser suit for a woman and to craft show-stopping red carpet gowns that, in the brightest and boldest colours and most unconventional fabrics, were more modern than any this most anachronistic of craft forms had ever seen.

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