The inspiration boards in Jean Paul Gaultier’s atelier in his palatial mission base on the fringes of the Marais (which at the turn of the century was a headquarters of the French Socialist Party), were filled with images of a pink-eyed Marilyn Manson and a peroxide-tonsured Scarlet, the alarming keeper of the door on the London club scene in the early eighties. Jean Paul confessed that he had been dreaming of “ghosts and vampires,” and of a collection in a palette that he describes as “blood red, virginal white, black Sabbath, the silver of a knife, and the gold of religion.”
So his girl’s vampire wigs had their tendril strands in back dotted with Swarovski crystal to match the beading on their tops, and, in one memorable instance, with torrents of river pearls that blended into the trim on the back cowl of a sleek black velvet siren gown. There were ecclesiastical touches like a priestly cape on a narrow black gown, and sinister effects like giant mesh net capes enfolding the wearer, or crinolined skirts garlanded with sinister appliqué chain motifs. There were some menacing accessories too, including some very teetering heels that proved far too much for one model, and a clutch purse with a large face mirror set into its side which runway exhibitionist Anna Cleveland, (whose mother Pat ruled the fashion catwalks in the 1970s and 80s) made flamboyant use of.
Gaultier being a subversive classicist at heart, however, beneath all the playful and mischievous ideas, the collection played out the idea of superbly throwaway luxury. Make that a jogging suit in black silk velvet, say, or paved in pewter sequins, or in raven’s-wing bugle beads. Or a perfectly tailored pantsuit (with the evocative, shapely 1940s cut that Gaultier loves), with “pinstripes” that turned out, on close inspection, to be embroidered strips of fine silver chain, trapped under tulle and left to dangle as fringe at the cuffs and hem.
Gaultier also took the idea of classic French-chic pied de poule checks (for a sleeveless lunching ladies sheath, for instance), and morphed them—via sophisticated embroidery effects—into ghostly, disappearing shadows of themselves, an effect he calls “phantomatique.” And what about an old-fashioned Norwegian intarsia sweaterdress? Except that chez Gaultier those knit stitches are replicated entirely in amazing silk floss embroidery.
There was tour de force workmanship too in the mille feuille layers of organza used for the leg-of-mutton sleeves on an hourglass top, or to ruffle the skirt like the pages of book caught on the breeze.
Meanwhile the bride – in a ribbed cream sweater dress to the floor, insouciantly paired with mille-feuille organza “angel wings,” was entirely upstaged by the maid of honor who preceded her—none other than Conchita Wurst, the bearded, cross-dressing Eurovision Song Contest winner, wearing a Second Empire crinoline of panels of obi-inspired brocade with motifs that Gaultier had developed with three-dimensional depth to them. The designer saucily called the ensemble Zizi Imperatrice, (a play on Sissi the Empress that you may have to ask a Frenchami(e) to translate for you). But after all, Gaultier wrote the book on gender games in fashion, didn’t he?