The debate about the runway show as the most appropriate format to display fashion collections is certainly not a new one and proof of its contemporary impermanent status is the fact that, over the last couple of years, its demise has raised more questions than answers. During the fashion weeks that have taken place in the major capitals of the world over the last few years, many designers have explored different formats to display their collections, from film screenings to intimate salon presentations, to creating static installations with models or mannequins, to showing exclusively for buyers. In spite of this plethora of possibilities, the runway show format has remained appealing for the masses that follow the glitz of the fashion world and are interested in the hierarchical spectacle of celebrity sightings on the front row. Most importantly, runway shows are cherished by those who still believe that the choice of music, venue, lights, models, and choreography can construct a highly stylised and even artistic performance that ultimately narrates the themes and inspiration subjacent to the genesis of a collection.
However, when a revered fashion designer like Jean Paul Gaultier (someone perceived as being far from shy and who does not abscond from publicly shouting his sartorial genius) decides to forego a runway show during Paris Men’s Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2013 in favour of a showroom presentation, the world of fashion takes heed. Whether the decision was made out of financial restraints or because Gaultier has chosen to repeat his successful strategy from his previous collection (whereby menswear was shown alongside women’s haute couture, scheduled for a few days later, and sold immediately), the access to the collection to examine all its details on models or hanging on clothes racks ended up being a most welcome move to journalists and buyers. The Style Examiner was fortunate to receive an invitation for a private view of the collection at Gaultier’s showroom in Paris’ Rue Saint Martin and could confirm that the designer’s talent shone through yet again in a remarkable collection that comprised several looks with garments intended to be creatively combined.
For his Spring/Summer 2013 menswear collection, Gaultier sought inspiration yet again in sailor tailoring and imagery (as often witnessed in previous collections, namely his trademark buttoned panel sailor’s trousers, Breton tops in horizontal blue and white stripes, and cape-back tops) but added an exotic dimension by picturing his garments worn by sailors in the far-flung shores of India. As such, his customary designs were contrasted against a range of bold colours, patterns and designs inspired by Indian landscape, social history and religion (such as shades of red and yellow, layered fabrics and pleated harem pants), and were mixed with elements that evoked travel story-telling, as manifest in clothes richly printed with sailing and fishing motifs or meticulously encrusted with minute beading on dark fabrics as a way to represent starry nights in warm climates. At the same time, the seafaring passage of time and space could be glimpsed in patterns inspired by the rhythmic movements of waves in the ocean such as textured striped seersucker fabrics, pinstripes that discretely vanished and faded into plain colours on wool jackets, trousers or overalls, or stripes that changed directions to create dynamic patterns in cotton tops. In addition, waxed linen was used in some outerwear pieces to evoke water and sea travel, and the rough masculine world of maritime existence as symbolised by sailors’ tattoos could be discerned in delicate and feminine rich embroidery and lace.
Despite the very successful incorporation of Indian imagery into his Spring/Summer 2013 menswear collection, it was in the mastering of details that Gaultier struck sartorial gold again. This was evident in astonishing features or broader design choices, such as the careful and playful positioning of buttons, the subtle deconstruction of traditional tailoring by introducing layering and asymmetrical cuts, the adoption of bright summery colour (a rare vision during the latest Paris Men’s Fashion Week), and the stunning pleating (with contrasting colour stitching) that created a kilt-like effect by adding a removable back skirt to shorts or to the wondrous raincoats.
It is unquestionable that Jean Paul Gaultier could have easily produced a runway show to narrate the rich and intricate stories aforementioned. However, the fact that a static showroom presentation allowed viewers to engender their own stories of distant and exotic shores in such a powerful manner (and enjoy themselves in the process) only confirms Gaultier’s creative brilliance.