sat 13/07/2024

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show, Southbank Centre review - c’est chic | reviews, news & interviews

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show, Southbank Centre review - c’est chic

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show, Southbank Centre review - c’est chic

Opulent, decadent and a fabulous antidote to the woes of the world

Jean-Paul Gaultier: outrageously avant-garde decades laterAn explosion of creativity – we get a glimpse into JPG's mind

What does one wear to watch a Fashion Freak Show, FFS?

On the eve of London’s hottest day probably ever, the fashion faithful still turned out in sequins, PVC jackets, knee-high lace-up boots, turbans, wigs and floral headpieces, a skin-tight silver jumpsuit, full drag and even a white beret courtesy of Mr Nile Rodgers, who must have been blushing every time his disco anthem “Le Freak C’est Chic" erupted from the speakers. 

Such is the influence of fashion’s favourite bad boy (don’t make me say enfant terrible…) that not to make an effort for the UK premiere at the Southbank Centre of this joyously raunchy production – part memoir, part cabaret, part catwalk – would be like turning up naked. More on which later. But back to the clothes. The extraordinary, architectural garments that defined an era and made Madonna worth seeing live. Pieces that celebrated sex and bodies and art and dance. That exaggerated everything – some still seem outrageously avant-garde decades later. Fashion Freak Show presents hundreds of these feathered, ribboned, skirted, corseted pieces via a cast of 18 wondrously individual performers who sing, dance, strut and vogue their way through 50 years of Jean Paul Gaultier’s cris de coeur and creative output. Starting with the "world’s first transsexual bear" – the teddy on whom a young Gaultier performed a little augmentative style surgery. Which takes zero visits to the analyst’s couch to make the connection to his famous conical corsetry. 

Funny, pacy, sexy and fabulously French, the action-packed stage show interweaves monologues, music and dance with a series of nostalgic vignettes on film. The Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, Gaultier’s frequent model and muse, takes the form of his strict and suited schoolteacher. Josephine Baker takes the stage in vintage Folies Bergère footage while two dancers shake their hips in sequinned and feathered banana skirts and nothing else. Catherine Deneuve pops up to present a men’s haute couture show that features an awful lot of skirts. And Antoine de Caunes even makes an appearance – as Queen Elizabeth II.Those are, of course, references easy to relate to if you're old enough to remember getting dressed up to go out clubbing. The soundtrack pulls us through punk into disco before spinning us gently into Jimmy Somerville’s falsetto tones as the spectre of the AIDS crisis takes hold. Gaultier lost his grand amour Francis Menuge to the disease, and a searingly beautiful dance sequence reminds us all of the time, before effective treatment, when so many gay men died cruelly young.

So Line Renaud, the 91-year-old French singer, actress and AIDS activist appears on screen to can-can a message of hope and awareness. Performers bounce through the aisles passing condoms around. Madonna teases us into expressing ourselves. A mesmerising strip tease shushes the audience into respectful silence. And in a thoroughly joyful finale, there is no way anyone can leave without thinking that we are all beautiful. With or without clothes. 

  • Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show at Queen Elizabeth Hall until 2 August
A mesmerising strip tease shushes the audience into respectful silence


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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