SEX… in a fashion

The DMA’s exhibit on the fashions of Jean Paul Gaultier exudes sex appeal with a big dose of flamboyance

Fashion-1

DRESSED TO KILL IT | Gay fashion pioneer Jean Paul Gaultier oversees his own exhibit (Below) as an Animatronic mannequin, a fascinating technology that only accentuates the brilliance of the designs. (Photography by Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

 

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

For a man best known for creating the Valkyrie-like conical breastplate that shot Madonna into the pop culture stratosphere, Jean Paul Gaultier is a surprisingly humble person. While he’s clearly delighted to have his fashions on display — as they are at the Dallas Museum of Art in the traveling exhibit The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, which runs through February — he makes one thing plain: He does not consider fashion “art.”

“My work is not art,” he says flatly. “My job is to make clothes that have to be worn. My role is not to create in the abstract but to be inspired by the needs and desires of the people. So I am in service to that. Art is art — it is a personal vision of the artist.” He pauses, then adds with a smile, “My collections are my babies, though.”

While the designer himself may not consider his work product “art” in an academic sense, there are probably few who would agree with him. More so than most fashion designers, Jean Paul Gaultier’s style is instantly recognizable, even without seeing the label.

He almost single-handedly moved the bustier from the boudoir to the arena stage, cladding Madonna in a corset for her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, immediately making legends of them both.

It’s not just brassieres, but lace bodysuits, silk leotards, men in skirts — Gaultier takes fashion rules and sets them on their heads, turning out wearable art (there, we said it) that is both old-fashioned, even classical, and futuristic — but always oozing sex.

“My love for fashion belongs to the fact I saw a movie from the 1940s when I was 12,” he says. “In the movie, they did a beautiful description of couture.” (Now, when he works with a film director — as he did recently with Pedro Almodovar on The Skin I Live In, or Luc Besson on several films — “it is like I return to that [moment]”.)

But really, the germ of his style was started by what a pre-teen Jean Paul found in his grandmother’s wardrobe.

“I was fascinated by the whole world of my grandmother’s closet — it was beautiful and different,” he says. “It was underwear that could be worn as outerwear. I stole my ideas from her.”

Though not just her. Gaultier was inspired by television, by old movies, by showgirls — anything that offered a view of beauty he could re-imagine on the runway.

“My definition of beauty — there’s not one type. Beauty is beauty — you can find it in different places,” he says.

It’s a keystone not only of his design style, but of the DMA’s astonishingly exciting exhibit. (Anyone who doesn’t think a Gaultier gown deserves formal museum treatment obviously hasn’t seen the show.) In just a handful of rooms, we move from camp to punk — with many, many visits to edgy haute couture.

In the first gallery, visitors are introduced to Gaultier himself, talking about his fashions via a quasi-Animatronic mannequin that captures his actual face and voice, projected with unnerving authenticity. That happens with a lot of the mannequins, some of whom seem to look back, even judge you. (One Mohawk’d man in tights and a codpiece seemed to be flirting with me; I bet he does that with all the boys.) Lanky sailor boys in striped Apaché T-shirts look as if they leaped from a Tom of Finland drawing; that cone bra is also unmistakable.

Walk further, and the second room oozes the dark romance of a bordello, approximating (with its window-like display cases) the red-light district of Amsterdam. “I think when you exit this room, they should give you a cigarette,” I told another patron. She didn’t disagree.

Another room shows the movement of the pieces, sort of, with a moving catwalk that is like a time machine of Gaultier runway fashions, including representative designs from his famous Men in Skirts that took MOMA by storm some years ago. That’s only the most obvious example of the genderbending that is a Gaultier hallmark — and a central theme of the sexual forthrightness of the DMA’s exhibit.

“Androgyny is part of the thing that interests me,” he says, “that moment when the young can pass to adolescence [and] their beauty is between feminine and masculine at the same time. I use it to show in reality how [both sexes] can assume [the identity of the other sex]. In Scotland, you will see me in kilts and they are very masculine — it’s not feminine to wear a skirt [in that context].”

That, Gaultier says, is the essence of freedom, showing that “men can cry just as well as women can fight.”

And this exhibit shows that a designer can be an artist with a bold sense of sex — even if he doesn’t think so.

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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

Visit DallasVoice. com/ category/ Photos to see more of the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DMA.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: ‘Mad Fashion’ excruciating

Bravo sends me every screener they can. I mean every one. Not only series and season premieres, but sometimes individual midseason episodes of their gayish shows. (I got a screener of the second season of Work of Art in my DVD player right now.)

So why, I wondered, did I have to learn about the new series Mad Fashion from on-air promos? Why no press releases, no screeners? Why did I have to watch it on debut night like everyone else?

Now I understand: Mad Fashion is mad bad.

In the unending trend of all reality TV shows including at least one former reality star among its cast or guest judges, Mad Fashion stars former Project Runway designer Chris March. March, pictured, was a fan favorite, a zaftig, lisping teddy bear with a drag queen’s sensibility whose droll, heavy-lidded pronouncements of fashion and outrageous designed seemed destined to grab attention if not praise from the judges. March is the star of this new half-hour show, wherein he and his crew (he spends most of the first episode, which premiered Tuesday night, introducing them it seemed) come up with tacky takes on haute couture to their horrified but equally delighted clients.

March was a hoot on Project Runway, but here, he seems catatonic and distracted, walking through the reality TV cliches (direct addresses to the camera, coyly sowing (sewing?) controversy among his staff and clients, etc., all while sounding like the bastard child of South Park‘s Mr. Slave and Roseanne Barr.

Everyone knows all reality TV is scripted, but the ability to make it feel improvised is what sets the good apart from the bad. March doesn’t possess that skill, so nearly every scene feels excruciatingly posed. Mercifully, the series forces us to endure its fake grotesqueries in only 30-minute increments. I suspect we won’t have many of those either. If Bravo doesn’t wanna preview this uber-gay fashion series to the gay press … well, that tells you something.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PHOTOS: ‘Vintage’ scenes from Steven Hill event

Last week we previewed an event from young gay fashion photographer Steven D. Hill, who held his Heads with Hearts exhibit last Thursday. Well, since Hill is himself a photographer of some skill, he submitted some photos from the event — most lovingly re-creating the scenes as if from vintage, sepia-toned snapshots from the days of Studio 54 and Andy Warhol. Enjoy.

If you want to see his fashion photos in person, the exhibit is on display through Sept. 1. More of Hill’s photos below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Fierro, en fuego

Born in El Salvador, Oscar Fierro hopped the border with the intent to become famous. Now the designer and TV fashionista is making his mark — and he’s not shy about saying so

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

OSCAR GOWN | Designer Oscar Fierro, below, finds the perfect marriage between fashion and fundraising when his runway show also acts as a benefit for the Legal Hospice of Texas this weekend. Photo by Jirard.

DAMAS DE BLANCO
Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.  $15­–$50.
DDB2010.com

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Oscar Fierro admits that modesty is not a value he subscribes to. He’s just not a humble person.

That might lead some to think he’s cocky, but really, he’s just confident … and not just because he’s a gay fashion designer with a sense of entitlement. It’s because he’s been through hell and doesn’t plan on going back.

“My journey to United States was painful and basically a miracle,” he says. “When people try to knock me down, I laugh about it. I crossed three borders [Guatemala, Mexico and Texas] and I have made a name for myself in a short time. It’s gonna take a whole army to bring me down.”

As a boy in El Salvador, he attended school barefoot and ate a meal only when he could. He emigrated to the U.S. illegally, but because El Salvador was in the middle of a civil war, he was granted asylum. He made his way to Dallas in 1990 to live with his “very straight brother and his family,” but Fierro found stability in his work as a waiter at Mercado Juarez.

“When people leave their country they say they’ll make their money [here] and go back,” he says. “But why in hell would I ever go back? Once I experienced the wonderful sense of freedom and flushable toilets, I knew this was for me. Toilets to me were the best things ever. But I also knew here, I could make my dreams come true and even help people in a way.”

On Thursday he’ll demonstrate that mission with the Damas de Blanco runway show, where he will debut his spring and summer collections. All proceeds will benefit the Legal Hospice of Texas, which provides legal services to low-income individuals with terminal illnesses or HIV.

“I think it’s the perfect marriage between fashion and charity,” he says. “When fashion can be attached to a great cause, I think it makes it better.”

Charity is crucial to Fierro. The struggles of his family and those near to him inspired Fierro to start the Oscar Fierro Foundation. In 2004, he returned to El Salvador to find that people still needed help, mostly children. His foundation helps to rebuild schools and provide for kids where it can.

Fierro’s dream has remained pretty basic: He wants to be famous. He knew from childhood that he wanted to be involved in entertainment. He began by helping make dresses for beauty pageants in El Salvador; that’s when his path to fame and to America was starting to reveal itself. But really, fashion wasn’t a passion — it was a vehicle to get to where he wants.

“I have a clear mind for logistics and I knew, whether as fashion designer, singer or whatever, I’d have to embrace myself to not make money doing it,” he says. “So I concentrated on working to pay bills and then ventured into fashion.”

He started designing in 2000, mostly because he had to create his own clothes. At 4-foot-11, finding fashionable clothing that fit him was a challenge. Figuring he’d have a niche market, he began designing for shorter bodies.

“It kept pulling me in and I loved it,” he says.

In 2008, he finally debuted his first collection — to him, a lightning-fast record. Fierro’s dreams were coming true.

“It was like an explosion when it came out. I’m not ashamed to say it, but I believe I have great talent and personality and people can relate to me. That has been the combination for me to go as fast as I can in fashion. Other designers in Dallas have been at it that same amount of time but haven’t been able to reach the level I have yet.”

As much as he loves his adopted home, he says Dallas isn’t as stylish as it pretends to be. Despite some success here, he has to work in New York to really put his designs out there. Dallas has some catching up to do.

“Dallas is not fashion-ready and you can put that in bold print,” he says. “These ladies can tell you all day long how fashion forward they are and how they support local fashion, but fashion forward for them is big hair — that’s it.”

That acerbic wit is enough to get him on television. Gabriela Natale of Telemundo tapped into Fierro’s sassy talk on fashion and celebrities as the fashion police on her Spanish-language show SuperLatina.

“Oscar is a natural,” says Natale. “He is an exquisite designer, an over-the-top diva and the fiercest fashion critic, all in one. He was born for TV.”

So: Television, in print and on the runway. All that’s left is one thing and perhaps his American dream will be fully realized.

“We’ve sent gowns to stylists for the Oscars, but I’m not aware of any red carpet where my gowns have appeared,” he says. “But one celebrity that I wouldn’t like to dress is Paula Abdul. She’s a crime for a fashion designer.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens