Jean Paul Gaultier (French, b. 1952). Evening Dress, spring/summer 2001. Pink silk satin, pink silk tulle overlay with pink seed-bead embroidery, and pink silk ribbon laces. Purchase, Catharine Breyer Van Bomel Foundation Gift, and funds from various donors, 2001 (2001.455.2a–e).
Jean Paul Gaultier began as a free-spirited designer of prêt-a-porter collections, famed for the often louche references in his designs to Bettie Page waist-cinches and girdles, the mariner’s sweater via “Querelle” and the Marseille waterfront, the gender-bending androgyny of men in skirts and women in pinstriped suits, and the insular and mysterious communities of Andalusian Gypsies, Bedouins, and Manchu nomads. The Gaultier runway continues to yield an all-encompassing demographic of Fellini-esque assortment: the eccentric and the paradigmatic, the young and the old, members of every race, and every permutation of gender. Throughout his career, this panoply of characters has sported the tuxedos, trench coats, mariners’ sweaters, kilts, gangster suits, and corsets—leitmotifs that have become Gaultier’s signature vocabulary of apparel forms.
Of all the iconic elements associated with him, perhaps the most famous or notorious is the corset. Gaultier’s cone-bra and garter-fitted corset, sported by Madonna, brought this long-forgotten form of foundation apparel to the attention of a whole new generation. In this couture manifestation, however, the satin corset of the ready-to-wear has been extended to full length, covered with a skin of fine silk tulle, and completely over-embroidered with tiny seed beads. Even in the elitist precincts of haute couture, however, Gaultier retains the playfully provocative humor that established his reputation as the bad boy of Paris fashion. Sophie Dahl, who wore this design on the runway, was a spectacular vision, with her pale skin and blonde hair blending with the powder pink of the corset dress. The audience could not have been prepared for Gaultier’s punch line. When she turned, Ms. Dahl’s back and buttocks were visible but for the veiling of corset ribbons that crisscrossed down the gown’s back and formed its trailing hem.
This is a classic corset dress but with a twist, or, should I say, with a spin. I have kept only the front of the dress and the lacing but not the back. The back is completely bare with just the corset lacing. It is the ultimate “backless” dress.
—Jean Paul Gaultier