A mannequin looks you in the eye, a slow smile spreading across its face, and begins to speak ... or laugh, or cry.
The lifelike faces turn out to be high-tech projected beams, there to show off the Brooklyn Museum's "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk." The designer, 61, who has ruled runways and red carpets for 30-plus years with his distinctive, provocative brand of fashion, is being showcased in a major exhibit at the museum, the only East Coast stop for the show, which opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Under the watchful eye of curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot, it has traveled to Dallas, San Francisco, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden, though this exhibit boasts new selections dedicated to Gaultier's muses, including a bronzed catsuit for Naomi Campbell, an Amy Winehouse-inspired gown and a mixed-media leotard worn by singer-songwriter Beth Ditto.
"It is not only one beauty. It is many beauties," said Gaultier, in his thick French accent at a recent press preview. The designer, who reportedly had to be cajoled into having a show at all, is disarmingly modest. "I must say, my clothes are not bad."
With 130 haute couture and ready-to-wear ensembles -- most of them refreshingly free of glass cases -- the exhibit is divided into seven themes. Some highlights:
THE ODYSSEY draws from sailors, mermaids and religious iconography. Meet the designer here, or at least his animated face, on a mannequin wearing his signature men's trouser-skirt. On the flip side, find gowns designed for Catherine Deneuve and Marion Cotillard to wear to the Oscars.
In THE BOUDOIR, view what was likely Gaultier's very first client, his childhood teddy bear, Nana. She's wearing what may well have been the predecessor of the iconic cone bra flaunted by Madonna (also on display here), along with a smear of red lipstick.
PUNK CANCAN, Gaultier's blended vision of Parisian classicism with London punk, features a mind-boggling chiffon camouflage dress that required 312 hours to make and was worn by Sarah Jessica Parker to the 2000 MTV Awards. A conveyor belt mimicking a runway walk moves mannequins along, one of them lifting a gigantic cancan skirt to reveal a leg motif-lining. It's a major wow.
"The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier"
WHEN | WHERE Through Feb. 23, 2014 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn.
INFO Advance tickets $15, available online for morning entry (11 a.m.- 1:30 p.m.) or afternoon (1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.), 718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org