Jean Paul Gaultier Proves Thinking Is Always In Fashion

Holidays are always a good time to relax and recharge, and if you can do something that inspires you during your time off, so much the better. That’s exactly what happened this year after I gave my wife a Christmas gift of tickets to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Gaultier? You mean the guy who designed those crazy cone-bras Madonna wore back in the day? Yes, that’s him. Before last week, that was all I knew, and I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to see more. Or to be heading back downtown on one of my precious days off to (as I imagined it) “stand around and look at clothes.” It took only a second inside, however, for me to realize how wrong I was.

The exhibit was truly inspiring. From the genius of Mr. Gaultier’s work to the intelligence and inventiveness of the show itself, the whole thing not only reinforced my desire to create, it reminded me of one of the most basic reasons I (and I suspect, you) like to do it in the first place: to experience the simple joy of doing something in a new way.

In advertising terms, it was like looking at the coolest portfolio ever. The kind that makes you want to run home, reevaluate and start making your own work better. Or like watching a director’s reel from a true master. It was a rush.

So much thinking on display. Every piece exuded thought, a single idea brought to life. Every line was there for a reason. (Again, I’m not a fashion expert. But that’s the great thing about craftsmanship: it can’t be denied, even to a fashion noob like me.)

Even the most outlandish pieces—the ones designed to shock or throw you off balance—they still maintained a level of sophistication that somehow grounded them, making you feel at ease and unsure at the same time. Seeing the pieces up close, knowing they’re one-of-a-kind and created entirely by hand only reinforced the level of commitment on display, both conceptual and practical. (The lesson/reminder: be single-minded in thought, deliberate in execution.)

Cultural references were everywhere: history, geography, the street, nature, sexuality, sociology. (Another lesson/reminder: Be a sponge. Absorb it all, then use it your own way.) And always presented with a sense of humor. Even Gaultier’s own motto inspires (paraphrased from memory, as no pictures were allowed): “I’m always asking myself how to do that in a new way. That is what drives me.” (Hence the title of the single he released in 1989: How To Do That (In A New Way). You know you’re truly creative when even your vanity projects are tributes to the creative thought process.

There’s more of course. From the costumes in The Fifth Element to the cover of Cameo’s Word Up! album. And if you ever wondered which designer the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kurt Cobain (yes, Kurt Cobain) and Madonna had in common, wonder no more.

So thank you, Linda. And thank you, Jean Paul Gaultier. The show moves to San Francisco next, then heads to Europe. See it if you can. Then get busy finding your own “new way.”

About Wade Sturdivant

Creative Director/Copywriter at The Richards Group, Wade spent his formative years in Chicago (DDB, Leo Burnett) and has worked on accounts as diverse as BMW, Firestone, Bud Light, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s and the U.S. Army.