Not many fashion designers enjoy a space in the cultural consciousness as prominent as Jean Paul Gaultier, an achievement stitched together from working with stars like Madonna, to presenting Eurotrash, while that sailor boy motif is instantly recognisable. Gaultier’s ‘autobiographical’ show, Fashion Freak Show was first performed in Paris at Folies Bergère, followed by a brief run at London’s Southbank Centre, and now comes to Roundhouse in an updated version.
It’s almost impossible to categorise Fashion Freak Show, it falls somewhere between catwalk extravaganza, revue and cabaret, with a hint of circus and a heavy dose of the outlandish. We’re told we’re going inside the mind of Jean Paul Gaultier, and it’s just as wild as you might imagine.
We open with one of the video sequences that are peppered throughout the show, it could easily be an advert for the latest Gaultier fragrance, but it’s our introduction to the mind of the young Jean Paul and the early promise of talent that would lead to eventual global success.
The video screens give way for the incredibly talented dancers who make Fashion Freak Show the success it is. That initial routine gives us some clue as to what to expect for the rest of the evening, raunchy, sensual, unabashed, and plenty of flesh on display.
It’s more Eurotrash than gratuitous, but it again highlights the reputation that has followed Gaultier throughout his career. There is an element of the auto-biographical, but it is loose, and the storyline practically non-existent. It doesn’t matter though, because the sheer spectacle is enough, and strangely does more to draw us in to Gaultier’s world than a traditional book could ever hope to do.
Marion Motin’s choreography is stunning, and there’s often so much happening on stage that it’s difficult to know where to focus your attention. The first fashion show sequence is a good example, where both front of stage, back of stage and live video are used to perfectly create the sense of high energy, and risk, that came with such a momentous event.
Some guest stars appear in the video segments, London audiences may struggle to recognise all of the French icons, though those of us of a certain vintage will recognise Antoine de Caunes as the Queen, welcoming us to the segment covering Gaultier’s arrival in London.
The cast are superb, and needless to say, this is an exceptionally talented bunch, who are as comfortable spinning in the air as they are on the catwalk.
If the title doesn’t give it away, this production comes in to its own with its costumes. Unsurprisingly, Gaultier himself is responsible for the design of every single one, and it’s probably fair to say that not another stage show in London has costumes that could even come close to rival those of Fashion Freak Show.
You might leave this Jean Paul Gaultier creation wondering what exactly you’ve just seen, but you’ll know that you’ve enjoyed it. Wild explosions of colour, pulsating music and great lighting design turn the Roundhouse in to an alluring Parisian nightclub, or perhaps one that only exists in the mind of Jean Paul Gaultier.
Once the enfant terrible, Jean Paul Gaultier lifts the corset to relive an exhilarating life through Fashion Freak Show, and brings all of us along for the ride. And what a mesmerising and beguiling journey it is.