Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show at the Southbank Centre: Review by Stephen Vowles

As a controlled manager of his brand Jean Paul Gaultier has achieved icon status and with the Fashion Freak Show we are re-introduced to him and, as lesser mortals, invited to enjoy the ride.

I sincerely believe ‘le garçon’ Gaultier dreamt of his name in bright lights. Mingling with the elite, the rich and famous, in a very short period of time he achieved precisely that. In his formative years, Gaultier was dressing his teddy bear in costumes that he fantasised being worn at the Folies Bergère – and then to the couture houses of France, notably Hermes, was a small if complicated transition. He dealt with bullying and homophobia. Then it was punk, and a creative explosion that he relished and cherished which catapulted him into the stratosphere and he created the global brand his name is now so well known for, with a fragrance thrown in just for good measure, with its Le Querelle influence undisputed.

Then 80’s AIDS hit his industry. He does not dismiss this and actually makes a poignant statement about the situation in France, putting across a different perspective whilst working with Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour and acknowledging the new look at sex with George Michael’s track ‘I Want Your Sex’ used in that season’s runway S&M show. Gaultier puts out an opinion of how the crisis could and should have been addressed.

This is a monumental if unusual arts extravaganza. Utilising all mod cons: LED screens, synchronised music and video playback and a very good cast of proficient dancers and exhibitionists that made it impossible for this epic show to fail. This is a biographical journey. A life story covering the 40 years when the boy becomes a man, and why not? The man is a creative genius and it is good to celebrate that fact. 

The comical bra for Madonna, like the engineered bra for Jane Russell made by Howard Hughes, can only get you press attention and this show deserves acclaim. And who does not love a story of a boy made good, inspired by a teddy bear? This is magnificent and visually stunning. 

Gaultier is a visionary and if anyone was to criticise him for telling his story in this sexy and provocative way, then more fool them. A definitive dramatic look at an enfant terrible par excellence.


Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show runs to Friday 2 August at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Belvedere Road, Lambeth SE1 8XX. Box office: 020 3879 9555

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