Embrace the bra: My day with Jean Paul Gaultier in Brooklyn

Embrace the Bra-my trip to the Gaultier Brooklyn exhibitWhen I was younger, I never gave much thought to womens' undergarments or how they evolved over the centuries. In the past, undergarments have been uncomfortable and confining. The '20's brought a revolution in women's fashion and underpinnings were drastically relaxed and loosened. More recently, undergarments have become sexual fashion statements that empower women behind closed doors and in public.

In the 80's, bras and lingerie were thrust into the limelight by the punk movement and by singer-style icon, Madonna. She introduced corsets and lace bras as fashion statements and was imitated worldwide. This trend gave women the latitude in redefining how undergarments are worn.

No other designer created controversy by redefining lingerie and corsetry on the fashion runways than French designer, Jean Paul Gaultier.

Gaultier, born and raised in France, designed many diverse fashion collections over the decades. The Brooklyn Museum is paying tribute in a new exhibit called "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk", focusing on his work spanning from the 1970s to present.

Prettycripple at Gaultier Brooklyn exhibit

Me in front of "Immaculate No. 3, May 2007". Chromogenic print with acrylic bonding by Miles Aldridge which featured a model wearing the "Regina Maria" gown from the haute couture, spring - summer 2007 collection.

I have always been in love with his irreverent sense of humor, audacity, playfulness, open-mindedness and non-conformism in the haute couture world of fashion. Gaultier was one of the first openly gay designers who celebrated diversity by not subscribing to the fashion industry's unyielding standard of beauty and body proportions. He said "you can find beauty in everyone and everything" and "if you like yourself, people will love you."

The Virgins collection Gaultier exhibit Brooklyn museum "The Virgins" couture collection.

Aureole gown Jean Paul Gaultier Kylie Minogue

"Auréole" gown - haute couture, spring-summer 2007. Pleated tulle and gold lamé gown with long back panel; hammered brass and plexiglass headdress. Singer Kylie Minogue wore this gown in Pierre et Gille's 2008 photograph The Virgins and the Serpents.

The exhibit is divided into 7 sections based on themes rather than in chronological order. I entered the first room, The Odyssey, which included religious themes in "The Virgins" collection followed by sailor and mermaid themes. This serene blue hued room reminded me of a space in a windowless aquarium with low recessed lighting. The mannequins were beautifully draped in gowns with impeccable couture detail. Overhead projectors displayed high definition interactive visuals on the mannequins' custom designed faces. I almost jumped out of my seat when I leaned in closely to examine the detail in one of the gowns, only to be spoken to and winked at by the mannequin.

Gaultier mannequin at Brooklyn museum

A mannequin of fashion's bad boy "enfant-terrible", Jean Paul Gaultier. Fellas, time to shed your distressed jeans and throw on a skirt or dress.[/caption] In this same room was the "Sailor" section which illustrated Gaultier's reverence of the classic French maritime stripe boat neck sailor top. He once said, "I've always loved the graphic detail and architectural aspects of stripes. My mother dressed me in sailor-striped sweaters. They go with everything, never go out of style, and probably never will…"

the Sailor collection Gaultier Brooklyn museum The "Sailor" collection.

The last section in this room is the "Mermaids" collection where my favorite design had me burst out laughing and shout "No way, a disabled mermaid! Now that is not only hilarious, but playful and sexy."

Crippled mermaid from Gaultier exhibit

"La Mariée" wedding gown from the Mermaids collection. Haute couture, spring-summer 2008. Latex bodysuit with gilded scales; shell cone bra; long, sequin-embroidered latex skirt; coral-motif rubber crutches.

crippled disabled mermaid Gaultier Brooklyn museum

Ok, this look makes me want to revamp my unfashionable wheelchair. I need to cover it with latex and shells and head to the Hamptons this summer.

Do I have another word to describe Gaultier? Yes. Masochist. Look at the detail in this design. All his couture work takes anywhere between 150-300 hours to complete per garment. Where does he even find the people to complete this level of sophisticated intricate work?

The next room, Boudoir, examines the origins of his fascination for corsets and bras. His parents would not allow him to play with dolls which he wanted, so they gave him a teddy bear instead. He was very close to his open-minded grandma who allowed him to study her bras and undergarments, which led him to construct a newspaper coned bra for his teddy, "Nana." Years later, his fascination with corsetry was his source of inspiration for his collections in the 1980s and for this gown from the "Black Swan" collection from his haute couture show in 2011-2012.

Nana Gaultier teddybear and black swan gown

"Black Swan" collection gown and "Nana" his childhood teddy with bra made out of newspaper. The gown is haute couture from the fall/winter 2011 collection. 3-D, "horn of plenty"-effect salmon pink satin ribbon-corset style gown with lacing.


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