Not many people would still argue that fashion, as in garments, has no place in an art museum. After all, the way that people decorate their bodies with clothing and their houses with whatever, is pretty much the limit of their personal artistic expression. All of which is good enough reason for the National Gallery of Victoria to be hosting The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk (until 8 February at the St Kilda Road HQ).
This iconoclastic designer seems always to have been on the scene but in fact, having been born in Paris in 1952, he didn’t have a corporate entity until 1981. He was the one who first put corsets on the outside in 1983. Even then it wasn’t really shocking because they were no longer being worn on the inside. Indeed by then a whole generation had never seen a corset and knew not what step-ins are!
Gaultier began designing for the stage and film in 1990, first and most famously for Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour. Kylie Minogue wore his costumes for her X2008 Tour. For film, there were the costumes for Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and for Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, among others. All of this and much more can be seen in this really striking and technically
innovative exhibition which was mounted in Montreal in 2011 and has been touring ever since; now that’s brand power!
Speaking of brands, the NGV also has another but rather different fashion exhibition – Mambo: 30 Years of Shelf-Indulgence (until 22 February at the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square). Since 1984, founder Dave Jennings has engaged over 250 artists, most famously for Richard Allen’s farting dog, Maria Kozic’s haunting Goddesses and Reg Mombassa’s Australian Jesus Hawaiian shirt. Displaying thirty years of perverse national pride, Mambo even triumphantly survived the burden of designing the Australian athletes’ uniforms for the Sydney Olympic Games.
Both the Gaultier and Mambo shows are exercises in subversion and idiosyncratic humour; both are products of the highest craftsmanship.
They go perfectly with a really great international cultural event: the Australian Tennis Open. Tennis may be in danger of being part of our sporting cultural memory until a new generation of Australian champions fully emerges but this tournament is brilliantly staged in a superb setting. And it is utterly international, not just in the roster of players but in the crowds of supporters.