When Jean Paul Gaultier revealed during a preview that “punk cancan” was the theme of his spring couture show, the reaction from this camp was skeptical at best. Between the multicolored Mohawk hairpieces, the fishnet stockings, copious amounts of ruched tulle and cameo chokers done in blood red studs, it had all the makings of a major mess. And then before the show, an hour’s worth of the galop (cancan music) on a loop did nothing to restore confidence. Then silence fell and the only sound was Catherine Deneuve’s voice announcing each look in French, the old-world couture way. That wasn’t the only surprise. For a designer prone to overexuberance, the collection was beautifully understated – relatively speaking. The punk cancan thing wasn’t a bluff, but it came from distilling the cliche elements of British punk – tartan, distressed mesh – and the ballrooms of Montparnasse – showgirl skirts and ruffles – and repackaging them as French chic.
Gaultier is an excellent tailor capable of cutting the most elegant and seductive lines, the breadth of which was on full display in a variety of le smokings. There were sharp jackets, fierce pencil skirts, wide-leg trousers and jumpsuits treated like couture gowns in leather, passementerie, satin and 3-D embroideries. They cut a strong yet feminine figure. A gorgeous ivory suit, for example, featured a structured bodice done in delicately draped pleats worn over soft, silk plisse pants.Showgirls came in column gowns with fishtail skirts and cutaway ball gowns lined in tulle and guipure lace. It was all in good taste, even Gaultier’s subversive side, including bondage, distressed details and Andrej Pejic, the androgynous male model, who made a fetching bride. In this case, Gaultier’s wicked sense of humor came not at the expense of sophistication. He saved the camp for the finale, when a Crazy Horse dancer named Psykko Tico cancan-ed her way down the runway, flashing her knickers and a gap-toothed grin all the way.