Fashion Freak Show review: This thrillscape of wild costumes will delight die-hards
Men gyrating in neon yellow tutus, dancers proudly sporting red tubing as the only cover to their modesty, others teasing the crowd wearing Shakespearean ruffs extending the length of the body. And how could we forget the conical bras?
French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s vivid imagination is what helped him push past the crowd to become one of the world’s most lauded creatives. He put men in skirts on the catwalk in the 80s and juxtaposed wildly opposing fashion styles. Leather and sheer fabric, anyone? Gaultier did it, and for some of the most famous artists in the world, including Madonna, for her 1990 Blond Ambition world tour.
Now technically retired, 70-year-old Parisian Gaultier has got a team of designers running his fashion line while he’s been busy pulling together a cabaret show about his life.
If you only know Gaultier as the guy who makes those perfume bottles in the shape of sailors, or that bloke off Eurotrash, then Fashion Freak Show will probably be too niche for you. It purports to tell the story of JPG’s life, from school misfit to Pierre Cardin intern to internally renowned designer, but really it’s a catwalk show: a thrillscape of wild costumes, with performers strutting to thumping club music.
Alongside some stunning costumes, there’s impressive use of technology, with giant LED screens playing videos of Gaultier himself, as well as fictionalised scenes from his primary school, and other career-high moments.
On three or four occasions, the screens appear to slowly dissolve, acting something like a stage curtain to reveal the depth of the Roundhouse’s stage. It’s tough to incorporate screens in theatre without it seeming corny, or like they couldn’t figure out how to achieve the same effect with traditional acting, but here the tech is impressive both in terms of the visual quality and the emotion the scenes bring to the show.
Another stand-out moment is a pertinent reference to the AIDS pandemic, which took Gaultier’s partner Francis Menuge in 1990.
It’s a rare moment of compelling storytelling in an otherwise visually rich fashion explosion. It had, predictably, a lot of incredibly dressed people on opening night, with people literally gasping all around me, presumably die-hard fans who’d pilgrimaged down for opening night. I wasn’t screaming quite so loud, but I left with immense respect for Gaultier’s life’s work.
Fashion Freak Show plays at the Roundhouse until 29 August. Read City A.M.’s exclusive interview with Jean Paul Gaultier