In 2007, French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier introduced his Spring/Summer 2007 Haute Couture Collection – Virgins on the Paris runway. It was controversial, ethereal, and evocative, garnering applause and criticism throughout the world.
This week I saw this collection, along with others on exhibition at The deYoung Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in Golden Gate Park. It immediately brought to mind Mexico’s most revered saint, our Virgin of Guadalupe.
The animated mannequins draped in Gaultier’s vision of Virgin were singing hymns and crowned in areolae so magnificent, I could feel the aura. Costuming a saint-like human figure takes imagination and courage.
In 2007, Gaultier selected a Paris strip-tease queen to wear one of his virginal outfits on the runway — a statement about repentance or redemption, perhaps? He designs clothing to make you think, question, respond to society’s issues, ideals, undercurrents. (Gaultier clothed Madonna for her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, see sketch below, introducing his famous cone bra — the epitome of punk style.)
In her book, Madre: Perilous Journey with a Spanish Noun, author and linguistic anthropologist Liza Bakewell discusses the Mexican man’s pre- and post-marriage image of woman. Before marriage, she is The Malinche, the whore, sexual and fiery. After marriage, she becomes the Virgin, revered mother of his children, unapproachable.
Gaultier captures both identities and blends them perfectly into an alluring, sexual goddess who is both approachable and revered.
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk closed at the deYoung on August 19, 2012, but will travel to other locations worldwide.