It all started with a teddy bear.
Encased in a Plexiglas cube and wearing a papier mâché-like cone bra (the first of many to come), her name is Nana and she was Jean Paul Gaultier’s first subject.
A stuffed animal not unlike the ones we all had as children, Nana stares back at patrons as they make their way through “The Boudoir”, an exhibition space built around an oversized satin cushioned centerpiece and housing some of the French designer’s most iconic lingerie creations.
So thematically contradictory is Nana to the explicitly sexualized contents of the room, it almost jumps out at you (which is a feat in its own right given the dozen or so attention-garnering corsets in close proximity). Nana attracts an inevitable huddle around her showcase, as everyone wonders the obvious: What’s with the bear?
As The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk progresses, however, it becomes clear that Nana’s not such a surprise after all. Not after you learn that Gaultier’s design ethos is deeply rooted in his childhood and based on an affinity for the unconventional when it comes to fashion and beauty.
Irreverently known as fashion’s enfant terrible, it’s another great irony that Gaultier is anything but. Easily one of the kindest, most jovial designers working today, Gaultier doesn’t take himself too seriously. If he’s perceived as a contrarian, it’s only because his values are in such stark contrast to rest of the industry.
Where most designers continue to work with typically underweight models to relay their designs to the greater public, Gaultier gravitates toward the more or less controversial figures of Beth Ditto, Crystal Renn and Lara Stone (he once held a casting call for models with a classified ad that famously said “the conventionally pretty need not apply.”)
And the Montreal exhibition — the first retrospective in Gaultier’s 35-year career — successfully and repeatedly illustrates that point.
With a carefully curated 6-theme display of more than 140 designs (some worn by talking mannequins — undoubtedly one the exhibit’s creepiest and most curious moments), guests are guided through the various highlights of Gaultier’s career to date. The designer’s sense of humor is on display throughout, as is his refusal to subscribe to the chauvinistic notion of women as the weaker sex.
The best evidence of this is in his fascination with corsets — which Gaultier played with as a child while rooting around in his grandmother’s closets.
Caged, lamé, sequined, satin, top-stitched, striped, feathered, and laced, the Boudoir display shows the one-time torture-inflicting undergarment as Gaultier’s favorite subject and a symbol of his vision for post-feminist female empowerment and sexuality. (That’s his 2010 Skeleton corset above, and the 2009 Flayed body stocking in the top photo.)
Gaultier has successfully modeled his career around that lingerie staple and arguably pioneered the lingerie-as-outerwear trend in the process. It‘s the iconic visual for most of his perfume bottles (shaped like corseted busts) and the crux of his costume designs for her cone-bra highness, Madonna, on her Blond Ambition and Confessions tours.
And it’s no coincidence that Madonna has worn some of Gaultier’s best (corset) work. The two harbour a very fond affection and respect for one another. The essential American, as Gaultier calls her, Madonna’s chameleon approach to fashion and natural tendency for making everything she touches her own are what make her his muse and an inspiration to work with.
Having kick-started his career with his cone bra innovation, it only makes sense that Gaultier’s first love was lingerie. While he has yet to collaborate with any of the famed French lingerie labels, he recently added luxury Italian brand La Perla to his designing resume (which also includes an 8-year stint at Hermès and a 2010 collab with Target).
Gaultier has an almost mythical knack for paralleling extremes, bridging the erotic and the everyday with stylistic flourish. This detail is not lost on the Montreal exhibit’s curators, who have paid an accurate deserving tribute to this rare talent.
Nana would no doubt be flattered.
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier runs til Oct. 2 at the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1379 Sherbrooke St. W. $15 for adults 26 to 64. Reduced rates Wednesday evenings and for students and seniors. Here are some more images from the exhibition:
Is there anything those Kardashian girls can’t do?
They’ve already taken Miami and New York, conquered reality television and earned honorary MVP status in two pro sports league.
Now, the superstar style icons and celebritweeters have set their sights on middle America, with a clothing line for Sears that includes an extensive lingerie collection.
And what’s it like? Expect the same kind of glam-trash mishmash that distinguishes all of the K-girls’ signature endorsements and daily tabloid photo-ops. None of it is very attractive, but almost everything is loud; I guess sometimes a girl just wants to be noticed.
Not surprisingly, the Kardashian Kollection had barely reached store shelves last month before Sears was forced to yank a piece from the handbag range after allegations that it included a knock-off version of a Monica Botkier bag.
I say “not surprisingly” because everything in the K Kollection looks like it was cribbed from any number of designer labels. There’s no real style here and no design signature; just a lot of attention-grabbing one-offs that look like they were chosen by someone who is perpetually blinded by paparazzi flashbulbs. The lingerie collection, in particular, looks like it was plucked straight from the remainders bin at Victoria’s Secret. See for yourself:
Critics often ask what the Kardashians have done to earn their celebrity and what talent, if any, they possess. The answer: they are professional endorsers, nothing more.
Sears — which has already begun discounting the entire line — will capitalize briefly on the K-girls’ dubious appeal, before the Kardashian name undoubtedly shows up on competing brands. Oh well, more work for publicists!
There are, of course, some pieces from Sears collection worth considering (especially since everything is fairly inexpensive). We liked the in-your-face jersey animal-print jumper in the womenswear collection (below), which is perfect for prowling South Beach restos. Try to cross a hotel lobby in this number and someone is bound to mistake you — momentarily — for one of the K-Klan.
Which, I suppose, is the whole point.
Photos: Annie Leibovitz/Sears
It’s hard to find moral common ground in the fashion industry, but if there’s one issue that everyone should agree on it’s the sexual objectification of children in order to sell clothing.
Seriously, can’t we all agree to stop tarting up and exploiting pre-teen models to gain some kind of market advantage?
You would think this was a no-brainer, but the truth is that an endless number of brands, retailers, editors and marketers continually try to push the needle with ever-younger models in ever-more-inappropriate poses in a deliberate attempt to stir controversy and attract attention.
Complaints from parents’ group have forced many companies to withdraw products and advertising, and some countries (like Britain) have laws that govern the depiction of children in overtly sexual ways. Still, the dust barely settles on one kiddie-porn controversy before another one rises to take its place in the headlines.
Earlier this year, French Vogue treated us to a Tom Ford-edited photo spread featuring a dolled-up supermodel who was all of 10 years old — not that there was anything innocent about those come-hither poses and outfits. The declaimers howled in predictable protest; Condé Nast filled its pockets.
Now, there’s a new French lingerie brand, Jours Après Lunes, that goes after the enfant chic market with a questionable line of designer undies for kids.
Jours Après Lunes is the brainchild of Paris designer Sophie Morin, who worked in the industry for 15 years before launching what she calls the first loungerie collection for children. Morin describes her line as an “audacious and romantic way of looking at lingerie in children’s fashion.”
The collection of lingerie and loungewear pieces are offered in three age groups from baby to early teen. But it’s not the products that are the problem — even rich toddlers need underwear, although I don’t know many 7-year-olds who own loungewear — it’s the marketing behind it.
JAL uses campaign imagery for the youth and teen collection that features coiffed and made-up young models in flirty, revealing poses that make them look like Lara Stone wannabes. Even the baby line, which is mostly a bunch of colorful onesies, uses this charming image:
What bothers us most about all this isn’t just the use of hypersexualized child models, but how cynically and intentionally provocative it all is. This is a French label, selling to a European market, and we all know Europeans have more liberal attitudes toward sexuality. Jours Après Lunes exploits that laissez faire tolerance and, like French Vogue, even challenges its proudly open-minded target market to accept this latest attempt to push the boundaries of what is consider acceptable.
Some people will consider this bold, daring, even artistic. But it’s not; it’s just exploitation. You don’t have to be a prude to find this appalling, you just have to care about kids.
Below are some more images from the Jours Après Lunes debut set; we debated whether to publish them, but eventually decided that readers should see what this is all about and make up their own minds. You can also do a Google search for “French Vogue child photos” and you’ll find plenty of other viewpoints on the subject.
With America’s nail-biting debt crisis playing on TV screens around the clock this week, the last place you might expect to feel the fiscal pinch is at a lingerie exhibition.
But the semi-annual Curve Expo trade show in New York City offered a revealing glimpse into the nation’s downshifting economy — and the opportunities it creates for foreign competitors.
It was in many ways the most successful Curve exhibition yet, with 315 brands on display (a 30% jump from the winter show), more than 3,000 U.S. retail buyers attending, and a bright new contingent of swimwear labels that added a blaze of color to the show.
A lot of the business conducted, however, will see Yankee dollars headed offshore to dozens of foreign lingerie and swim brands that are now clamoring to enter or expand operations in the U.S. market.
The three-day Curve show was awash in foreign labels, many of them taking their first shot at finding U.S. retail channels. But why the sudden interest now — with America still in the grip of a recession? Primarily, the U.S. dollar’s two-year slide on foreign currency markets has boosted the value of almost everyone else’s currency and lowered barriers for fashion brands looking to expand stateside.
“We’ve been talking to a lot of them for years,” said Laurence Teinturier, vice-president of Curve, “but many of these brands simply were not ready until now.”
No one was more eager to make new friends than latin countries like Colombia, which benefits from a free-trade agreement with the U.S. For the first time, the industry group ProExport Colombia subsidized costs for 14 Colombian labels to attend Curve and show off their colorful and creative swim and lingerie looks.
“It is going to take some more time, but we did get some orders — and the media likes us,” said Chechy Benedetti, whose Cartagena label Pitahaya creates dramatic swimwear prints based on traditional designs of indigenous tribes.
And Colombia was just one of many countries with a strong presence at Curve. The marketing collective Lingerie Francaise brought a record 22 premium French labels to the show, while multiple brands from Brazil, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and even Poland were on hand.
If all this sounds a bit ominous for U.S. manufacturers and designers, there were also plenty of upbeat signals. The show featured numerous product innovations — which is always a dependable sign of a healthy and growing marketplace.
New sportswear label Red Daisy debuted a line of running gear with a built-in charm that reminds women to do breast self-exams, Veronica Brett unveiled a sensational collection of swimwear for breast cancer survivors,
and Irely showed off its patent-pending briefs with a secret pocket. Yes, American ingenuity is alive and well.
There was also good news for U.S. customers who will finally be able to get their hands on international labels that have proven hard to find over here. Chief among these is the glorious French loungewear label Marjolaine, whose highly coveted slips and wraps will finally get broad distribution in high-end stores. Other big names docking at Curve Expo: Pain de Sucre swimwear and its lingerie label Suggest, as well as long-time French apparel brand Daniel Hechter, whose new-ish lingerie collection is finally available in the U.S.
Less well-known newcomers used Curve to make a nervous, but hopeful, debut in North America.
The new Irish label Embrace made a quick, last-minute decision to come to New York after its debut set won the prestigious Innovation award at the Mode City lingerie show in Paris just a week earlier (that’s Embrace’s Reenagh McCall in the photo above). The popular Australian shapewear label Nearly Nude, which features ultra-light cotton blends that have surprising compression features, showed up at Curve with its new North American licensee, and the flamboyant Thais Gusmao — an established designer lingerie label in its native Brazil — showed curious visitors its utterly unique collection of undies inspired by chef’s uniforms.
Most of the crop of Curve newbies said they enjoyed a warm reception from retail buyers and browsers, but not all foreign labels are ideally suited for the American marketplace. Traffic was slow at the booth occupied by Polish label Kris Line, which sells ornately decorated foundations for larger cup sizes, and which had the poor luck to be situated across the aisle from the feverishly busy Donna Karan booth and its sublime collection of minimalist undies.
Of course, Americans don’t have to look as far as Europe or South America to find foreign brands taking a bite out of the market. Canada was richly represented and, in many ways, stole the show: the Montreal swimwear label Shan was flying high after its luxurious resort collection won the top prize at the Paris lingerie exhibition, while Toronto retailer Secrets From Your Sister claimed one of the best-store awards announced by Best of Intima magazine during the Curve show.
And while everyone else was holding the door open for offshore labels, Canadian lingerie label Blush was looking in the other direction, with a spinoff label for the European market called Suite B. That’s right, a Canadian lingerie label taking on the Europeans!
And Canada also showed off its entrepreneurial spirit in the form of innovative men’s underwear brand Saxx from Vancouver. It’s big idea? A hidden pouch which, according to sales rep Michael Topliss, “keeps your package from rubbing against your legs.”
I like that idea … but I LOVED finding a sales rep named “topliss” at a lingerie show even more.
Here’s a few more random shots from Curve Expo NYC.
The News of the World may be gone forever, but the public shaming of Rupert Murdoch and his cronies continues to gather momentum.
Now, a sexy German lingerie brand has used the scandal surrounding the Murdoch media empire to its own advantage, with a marketing campaign that taunts Murdoch, his son James and former NOTW editor Rebekah Brooks.
Blush-Berlin and its ad agency Glow Berlin created a mock-tabloid look for the campaign, which invites Murdoch to “look at our little secrets”. The print and billboard campaign isn’t shy about naming names from the phone-hacking scandal, copping the old NOTW logo, and even using a Rebekah Brooks look-alike model (admit it, she is kind of hot, in a Cruella de Vil sort of way.)
The clever campaign is also timed to introduce the label’s Fall-Winter collection of see-through babydolls and other revealing goodies.
No word yet on what Rupert Murdoch thinks now that the bra, so to speak, is on the other foot, but you can bet they’re having a few chuckles on Fleet Street today.
So, some words to live by: Always wear clean underwear, and try to lead your life with enough decency that you don’t become the target of a mocking lingerie ad!