In Fashion Freak Show, currently staged at the legendary Folies Bergère and featuring flamenca guest star Rossy de Palma both as characters and herself, Jean Paul Gaultier tells the story of his life through funky, punk, rock and 80s dance music (playlist selected with Niles Rodgers).
For more than two exhilarating hours, the fantastic designer ‘invites’ guests on stage to depict the behind-the-scenes of his amazing, historical fashion shows and recalls both happy and dark moments in his life.
From his childhood with his teddy bear Nana, to his early professional success including Japanese investment, from his greatest catwalks, to the wild nights at Le Palace or London clubs, the humble and hilarious Jean Paul Gaultier shares his memories, moments of sadness and professional milestones.
For the show, Jean Paul Gaultier has created a series of new exclusive garments which lead the narrative. Nods to the late love of his life Francis, close friends, French talents , TV personalities and real stars – Madonna, Pedro Almodovar, Stromae, Amanda Lear to only name a few – appear along the show, making it as funny and extravagant as the fantastic couturier himself.
Each tableau is based on electrifying background videos, stunning choreographies, a vibrant palette of colours, impressive costumes as well as live performances – both theatre and live singing. Rossy de Palma follows the footsteps of eminent stars such as Dita Von Teese and Pat Cleveland. A must-see.
Jean Paul Gaultier, please tell us what the Fashion Freak Show is?
The Fashion Freak Show is not, strictly speaking, a revue; not least for the choice of the word “freak”. The idea was to show my vision of fashion, with a nod to both Tod Browning’s cinematic masterpiece Freaks and The Rocky Horror Show (conceived by Richard O’Brien), that I discovered in London in the 1970s. I’ve had my own ‘freaks’ since the beginning, I’ve always had tall and short, slim and curvy, young and mature models on my catwalks. The “femme fleur” stereotype is not for me – I tend to prefer thistles!
What memories do you have of revues?
Cinema led me to my vocation. Jacques Becker’s film Falbalas (1945), a love story set in a couture house, was decisive. Without Falbalas, and without the actress Micheline Presle, there would have been no fashion for me. I later discovered Lola Montès by Max Ophüls (1955), with Martine Carol – what a masterpiece! And then French Cancan by Jean Renoir (1954), with Maria Felix and Jean Gabin, which is amazing. I have always loved female characters that were strong; even excessively so, but never as caricatures.
How did the idea for the Fashion Freak Show come about?
The idea of a “revue” show that mixed cabaret, fashion and more, has grown naturally over the years. I have always loved performance and the very special atmosphere of the stage. I probably wouldn’t have gone into fashion if there weren’t any catwalk shows.
But staging a cabaret show is a completely different creative exercise, isn’t it?
I did it my way. People told me I needed a libretto, I didn’t want one. They said I needed a narrator, I used multiple female voices … I wrote visually, to create tableaux that tell more than the story of my life. It’s my journey through fashion, design and a look behind the scenes, which, like the lining of a jacket, is often just as beautiful as the outside.
You have always enjoyed the stage, haven’t you?
I love it. The runway has been my stage for years. My first memory is an operette at the théâtre du Châtelet, Rose de Noël (directed by Maurice Lehman in 1958), that I watched on TV with my grandmother when I was a little boy. Then I saw an excerpt from the Folies Bergère on TV, and I imagined that my teddy bear Nana was the leading lady of a revue. I love the stars of that whole scene – I was lucky enough to see Zizi Jeanmaire as a bird of paradise by Yves Saint Laurent when I was starting out, and Josephine Baker in her last show at the Bobino, a week before she died.
For this show, you’ve brought her back to the stage.
I pay tribute to her in the show, that’s true, in my own way. There’s a girl and a boy, Joséphine and Joséphin, both with banana belts.
You’ve dressed all the biggest stars, from Madonna to Kylie Minogue; and you’ve created costumes for Pedro Almodóvar films. Did it feel different designing for your own company of performers?
When I work with stars and directors, I’m there to meet their needs and I put a great deal of myself in that process. This time, it was different – I was the only one in charge, it was meant for me only. I went back to what I really am: a couturier telling my story (ies).
You could also say that the show is a family affair, couldn’t you?
Yes, I was lucky to be able to bring together a lot of people I am close to: the very talented Tonie Marshall (daughter of Micheline Presle) as a codirector, photographers Pierre & Gilles – old friends from our parties at Le Palace – created an image for the set. But there are also new faces, like the wonderful choreographer Marion Motin, the model Anna Cleveland (daughter of the iconic model Pat) and the singer Demi Mondaine, who I found on “The Voice”.
Are you planning on being on stage at any point?
Good question. My job has never been in the spotlight. Even though I learnt how to manage stage fright a while time ago, I think that with this show, like any of my fashion shows, my place is first and foremost behind the scenes.