Tuesday, August 16

Jean Paul’s Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show – Roundhouse

If one had been unaware of Gaultier’s work under Pierre Cardin, or his first collection in 1976, that changed in 1984 when he launched his line of skirts for men (actually kilts). The high-octane sensation this caused was akin to a cultural earthquake. This move was mocked and talked about from school playgrounds to the tabloids. Fashion’s enfant terrible had arrived.

Jean Paul’s Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show has landed at London’s Roundhouse and is a hot romp through the career of a designer who didn’t just break the rules of fashion, but provoked a paradigm shift on gender, sexuality and perceptions of beauty. 

It’s a slick, erotic circus that takes the catwalk as a concept and injects it with the high production values of an arena gig, while keeping a well-heeled toe in the intimate ambiance of a subversive cabaret show. With Nile Rodgers as Music Arranger and Orchestrator, this 2-hour show has a flawless, banging soundtrack featuring Grace Jones, The Sex Pistols, George Michael and Chic. 

The reflection on his life is largely quite thin on detail, but nobody’s really here for that. The dressed-up crowd erupt in applause at the gymnastic agility of the dancers, sporadic bouts of voguing and the sheer spectacle of the garments. The clothes are beautifully crafted, and it’s a credit to the cast, that the detail and drama of the fabric isn’t upstaged by the lively models. The pseudo-nudity, athletic limbs, sharp cheekbones and heaps of haute attitude are the perfect qualities to showcase the clothes.

There’s a moving vignette dedicated to Francis Menuge, his boyfriend and business partner who died of AIDS-related causes in 1990. A solo male moves from sensual contemporary dance to tormented physicality while Line Renaud sings Cole Porter’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’. It’s a nod to the Red Hot + Blue fundraising album that came out the same year and to the campaigning work of Act Up. 

Photo: Mark Senior

The choreography by Marion Motin is spectacular. The precision of the moves, in such tight sync with the beats delivers dramatic shapes that put the clothes in the spotlight. The almost violent execution of the poses brings the visceral thrill of seeing bodies as instruments. They are marionettes and mannequins, but also wayward club kids devoted to hedonism and provocation.

Gaultier admits that his reference points for this show are The Rocky Horror Show, Todd Browning’s Freaks and the Folies Bergère. These threads are all very evident; provocative sexuality, anarchic queerness, unhinged musical theatre and the dark allure of the subversive travelling show are themes that slap the audience with nuclear impact.

In 2022, we may be immune to the shock of a conical bra, brash cross-dressing or homoerotic sailor chic, but Gaultier did it first, rocked the world and truly changed the landscape. This revue is a fun reminder of that legacy and a once again, he’s pushed boundaries. Gaultier’s taken the runway and run with it, creating a theatrical spectacle which is couture as pop culture, appealing to fans of Fosse, Fassbinder and MTV, not just style afficionados. It’s so entertaining and fun that it’s easy to forget the impact that he’s had on what we wear and the world we live in. Vive la révolution!

JEAN PAUL GAULTIER FASHION FREAK SHOW is at The Roundhouse. Runs: 19th July – 28th August 2022, https://www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/2022/fashion-freak-show/

Reviewer: Stewart Who?

Reviewed: 19th July 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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