Jean Paul Gaultier: Cooks, Thieves, and Plastic Corsets
Peter Greenaway's 1989 film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover is a weird, grand spectacle involving haute cuisine and sex and luridness and many particularly horrible things, such as cannibalism, torture, and shit-eating. It showed at Central Cinema recently, but if you missed it, get it from Netflix; YouTube has the censored version, which is less thrilling but less exhausting.
Jean Paul Gaultier designed the costuming, which is not surprising. His work has a tendency to appear in movies that embody hallucinatory worlds, including The City of Lost Children and The Fifth Element. (The latter's gorgeously absurd airline-stewardess dresses inspired local designer Aubrey McMillan.) Many of Gaultier's styles in The Cook pull details from his signature bondage-y ensembles, with their cage crinolines, cinched waists, and intricate straps. As Georgina, Helen Mirren pairs ostrich-feather accessories with intricate hairdos, all lacquered and swirling, and her garments change colors as she moves from room to room. Restaurant waitstaff uniforms manage to seem both servile and regal, with combinations of epaulets and gold tassels, meticulous white gauntlets, and shiny plastic corsets, while the transparent forks and spoons stacking the chest in horizontal rows impart a sci-fi-nutcracker-magic-majorette effect. As the pathological lunatic Albert, Michael Gambon and his accompanying thugs dole out abuse by jamming objects into victims' mouths: book pages, spoon handles, wooden buttons, belly buttons. They resemble 17th-century cardinals, with red sashes and delicate lace collars draped over finely tailored suits.
Movie getups aside, Gaultier is best known as the creator of Madonna's seamed, conical bra from her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. He layered her girdle over ordinary trousers, which sounds like it should have looked silly but was wildly sexy instead. Many of his designs play up the bizarre uses of standard items: straw place mats become bolero jackets, cat-food cans become bracelets, plastic globes become hats, salad bowls become collars. Sometimes a classic lace pattern gets adapted in rubber, anti-slip bathtub stickers embellish a gown's train, and mini airline bottles of Scotch double as accessories, dangling from chains. Everyday sensations can seep in, too. In a mid-'80s Vogue interview, he described his "You Feel as Though You've Eaten Too Much" collection, with its assortment of garments intentionally appearing to fit "too-tight": "People who... dress badly are the real stylists. My [inspiration comes] from exactly those moments when you are mistaken or embarrassed." And in the realm of menswear, Gaultier quickly gets fantastical, with his backless sweaters, thick fur bibs, pigeon-feather coats, or jackets piled with white, full-carcass foxes—a pair of them, to sling over each arm.