It is with awe that I visit exhibitions such as the current Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the National Gallery Victoria. While wandering through the exhibition I am taken by the creativity on display, curious about where these ideas come from, how they develop from design to finished gown.
Equally, I am struck by the absurdity of some of the designs, their lack of practicality, their weirdness. This is also part of the attraction I guess. To wonder about who Jean Paul had in mind when he designed it, whether anyone has ever worn it, and even, strangely enough, what it would be like to wear it.
I wonder, too, what it must be like to be a designer and have an exhibition like this. Your life's work laid out, with its various interpretations. Visitors wandering through the distinctive rooms on display, casting judgment on your work. Sometimes positive judgments as they are in awe of the effort undertaken in the pursuit of completing some of the garments. Sometimes more of a turning up of the nose at less appealing, to them at least, garments.
It must take great courage to design garments that are new and take us into new territory as people. Garments that are cutting edge, designed to test out reactions. Jean Paul does this particularly well with his asexual designs. Experimenting with gender, or perhaps more accurately our culturally biased assumptions about gender. Experimenting with fabric, with imagery and with the incorporation of cultural icons.
There can be no doubt that Jean Paul was born to be a designer. As a child he began making newspaper bra corsets for his teddy, Nana. He continued to pursue these of course, moving away from newspapers, and it could be argued that this is the design for which he became most famous many decades later - Madonna's cone shaped bra corsets. What must it be like to know as a child what it is you want to do with your life? How does that drive you to achieve your goals? Overcome the barriers along the way? What does it feel like, then, to have an exhibition that highlights the successful journey you took? What does it feel like to be an original, a designer that others can only hope to learn from?
It's lucky we have people like Jean Paul in the world. People who push the boundaries, engage in their chosen field with passion, embrace the desire to continue to learn, keep testing out something new, reaching perfection yet never fully satisfied.