Feb 3rd, 2019, 01:35 PM

A Freak Show in Paris

By Leila Roker
One of Jean Paul Gaultier's designs on display in Montreal, Image Credit: Shutterstock/85698385
Jean Paul Gaultier's first stab at theater: Fashion Freak Show.

A dark stage with a projection of actors performing surgery graced the stage of Folies Bergère. Blood spurted, and as the masks came off to show the fabulous cast (and makeup) of Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show, the crew revealed their surgical subject: a young Gaultier’s teddy bear with cones for breasts, which was the French designer’s first muse and creation during his childhood.

Fashion Freak Show, Jean Paul Gaultier’s experimental theater project, first premiered September 18, 2018, and is still running strong. Gaultier has been getting some extra traction as of late, as the Kardashians have been circulating some of his vintage garbe. Just two days ago, Vogue.com reported on the new trend. Gaultier is known for his timeless, yet incredibly edgy, pieces and is so iconic, brands are still accused of knocking off his designs. He showcased some of his infamous work, and more in Fashion Freak Show.



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The show is a mix of anecdotes, social commentary and themes according to decades that make up a biography of Gaultier’s life. He uses his geometric knack for outfits as well as visual aids (videos shot for the show, geometric designs, and even video from his own fashions shows), pre-recorded music, singing, dancing, and small scripted skits in Frenglish. Using all these art mediums, he tells the story of his rise to the top, as well as some of his trials and tribulations he faced in getting there. Teaming up with Grammy-winning composer, Nile Rodgers, and director, Tony Marshall, Gaultier has truly created a masterpiece.

A recurring motif of Gaultier’s show is his childhood teddy bear. One actress sported a teddy bear costume with a corset to display Gaultier’s affinity for opposites. The male dancers are regular teddy bears, until they turn around to showcase their hairy fat suits. This is arguably a nod to what is known in the gay community as a Bear, which landed with most audience members, but did leave a feeling that the laughing more-so revolved around the beautiful cast depicting fat people.

The designer is also known for his diverse runway casting by using various sizes, races and ages. A similar effort was put into the show. There was a significant amount of beautiful black and caramel faces on the stage; however, with the title ‘Freak Show,’ one might hope to see a variety of sizes rather than the completely model-esque ensemble, where each member could easily pursue a career in modeling. While it did allow them to effortlessly flaunt the pieces specifically designed for the show, it would have been more interesting (and comforting) to see diversity in size.

Gaultier also tried his hand at “race-blind” casting which was a refreshing take on a Paris stage. A black “Karl Lagerfeld” FaceTimed in, and a white female tribute to Josephine Baker was depicted on stage, which brought a different dynamic, but there was still a cringe-worthy aspect of watching a white female actress portray a black female 1920s trailblazer.

Josephine Baker performance

This being said, the show is not completely tone-deaf. It is communicated in English and French, and escapes all language barriers with the power of dance. Several skits depict some of Gaultier’s childhood insecurities. He also gives a brief look into his first love and business partner, Francis Menuge, as well as his battle with AIDS. He takes it as an opportunity to address safe sex.

The second half of the show definitely loses steam, heavily relying on a choreographed fashion show, but briefly looks into the press’ scrutiny of Gaultier and even plastic surgery. However, all criticisms aside, the show truly captivates the audience, and features a great soundtrack, witty skits and a talented vocalist. There’s truly very little across theater right now that is similar to this production and is an experience to be had on its own, but maybe not for those that are shy to nudity. Tickets for the show are available on ticketmaster.fr.