When Jean Paul Gaultier was a little boy he gave his teddy bear a makeover. Nana, as the bear was named, got a dramatic inch-short haircut, some bold lipstick and became the proud first wearer of what is now known as the iconic Madonna cone-bra. Gaultier dreamed of putting Nana on stage in a show filled with feathers, dancing and songs. Now, he has.
This revue show, based on the French fashion designer’s life, is part catwalk, part pop concert, part cabaret and part episode of Eurotrash. It shouldn’t work but, like Gaultier’s outrageous, rule-defying designs, it does.
The story of Gaultier’s route into fashion, from being a child allowed to play with his grandma’s corsetry to being an enfant terrible of the fashion world who sent models down the runway in bin bags, is sporadically yet comprehensively told through this sexy, sprezzatura format.
Not all of it quite works. A recurrent joke revolving around American Vogue editor Anna Wintour falls flat. But the flashbacks to Gaultier’s childhood, as a boy who was more into cabaret music hall Le Folies Bergère than football, and scenes depicting the love of his life, Francis Menuge, who died from Aids, range from playful to moving.
Above all, the Fashion Freak Show captures the unapologetic fun of fashion and how this world has at times been a haven for people – particularly gay men – who didn’t fit in elsewhere. It showcases the best of an industry the uninitiated despise, reclaiming fashion not as dictatorial but as the only place where truly anything goes. Le freak c’est chic.