Fresh from its run in Paris’ iconic Folies Bergère cabaret venue, Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show hits London’s Southbank Centre. In this two-hour autobiographical revue, Gaultier outfits his myriad performers and masterfully orchestrates the posh variety show with the help of co-director Tonie Marshall, choreographer Marion Motin and music arranger Nile Rodgers. Drop by, catch the party vibes and gain a good glimpse into Gaultier’s fanciful mind from 23 July – 2 August, 2019.

On bringing his show to London, Gaultier says:

I am honoured that my Fashion Freak Show will premiere at Southbank Centre. London is dear to my heart and a constant source of inspiration. I have been coming here since my youth and have been greatly influenced by British music, theatre and cinema throughout my career… and I keep coming back.

– Jean Paul Gaultier,
Fashion Freak Show Creator, Writer, Director & Costume Designer
woman in a leather bustier and tulle skirt with pointe shoes
Photo credit: Luke Austin

Designer, Jean Paul Gaultier

Couturier Jean Paul Gaultier was dubbed as the ‘enfant terrible’ early in his career, and he lists his most iconic creations as the Corset Conique – the conical bustier (made famous by Madonna) and La Jupe pour Homme ‘man-skirt’. Gaultier acknowledges that all human beings have both masculine and feminine traits and designs clothing that allows both sexes to portray a mix of these characteristics. He also has a trademark La Marinière nautical look: white garments with horizontal blue stripes, which can be worn with or sans white sailing cap.  

Even if you’re not a fashionista, you’ll recognize Gaultier’s name from his perfume commercials that air on evening television. Currently, you’ll see the black and white ad for Scandal during which a woman strides into a restaurant (in heels, obviously) with just a large suit coat over her undergarments. Her fellow upscale diners are shocked, admiring and admonishing with equal fervour – what a scandal.

man on roller skates at a dance party
Photo credit: BOBY

Fashion Freak Show Review

Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show is a lavish and outlandish affair, but it isn’t overly self-indulgent. Or perhaps it has just been so thoughtfully conceived that it invites, rather than alienates. The performance art crossover pulls from fashion modeling, cinema, cabaret and a variety of dance styles and includes a dash of cinema – oftentimes with many medium overlapping. For instance, a trio performs a sultry, part-aerial duet using an off-kilter frame (an allusion to a canopy bed frame, perhaps?) – which is slowly pulled across stage in front of a video projection of models playing with the curtain of long ‘ballet pink’ satin ribbons of a dress. While it’s not quite possible to take it in all the details, the audience is left to inspect the unique aspects that intrigue them.

silhouette of couple in haute couture clothing on black and white projection
Photo credit: BOBY

The show begins with a quick look into Jean Pierre Gaultier’s childhood, as he doctors outfits to dress his teddy bear in a short film. Then a slew of dancing bears jubilantly tromps onto the stage and steals the spotlight. Another film shows a snippet from elementary school: Gaultier’s teacher wants to punish Gaultier for sketching fashion designs in class, portrayed similarly to Ralphie’s triumphant flashbacks in A Christmas Story.

Other numbers certainly aren’t childlike, as frisky adults in risqué attire worship each other’s bodies, burying their faces in each other’s nether regions. Although slightly uncomfortable for prude members of the audience, it’s empowering to see the men and women exude equal power and agency in the transient couplings.

Giant bears wearing Jean Paul Gaultier's conical bustiers at his 'Fashion Freak Show'
Photo credit: Fashion Freak Show

The show slows down as Scott Schneider, representing Gaultier’s romantic and partner Francis Menuge, takes to the red carpet solo in a contemporary dance number. He presses away from the floor, then crumples with the gravity of disease. But an exuberant pride parade follows in his wake with performers openly educating about AIDS amidst a rainbow confetti shower.

There are plenty of beautiful people strutting their stuff to hypnotic beats – including Gaultier’s own “How To Do That” track and RuPaul’s “Supermodel”. Derek Zoolander would be very in his element here. Although, Frankie Say’s “Relax” song made the playlist, so perhaps it’s best that Zoolander didn’t make an appearance… There were death drops, but from vogueing dance battles rather than assassination.

Jean Paul Gaultier and Francis Menuge duet in 'Fashion Freak Show'
Photo credit: BOBY

Gaultier comically pokes fun at himself and the fashion world with the help of the ‘Fashion police’, but he has an undeniably dedicated following. He bestows “love yourself” messages to the audience during the closing video and suggests we can “use fashion” instead of “being used by fashion”, but the slogans don’t seem quite so trite coming from a man who just put his whole life on stage for review.

Two women in fishnets, feathers and headdresses strut on stage in Fashion Freak Show by Jean Paul Gaultier
Photo credit: Luke Austin

In staging his autobiographical show at the Folies Bergère, Jean Paul Gaultier’s childhood dream came true. And when people watch it, they might just dare to pursue their own bold dreams.

Star Rating:

If you saw Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show, what were you favourite numbers and outfits? We’d love to hear your opinions in the comments below!

Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received free admission to the show in exchange for an honest and professional performance review.

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