Bread and Circuses
Jean Paul Gaultier's the main attraction at the Fondation Cartier Pour l'Art Contemporain, Paris
Judy Fayard -- Interior Design, 8/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
From the first scent of baking bread wafting through the doorway, "Pain Couture" is a toothsome treat—an exhibition made of bread, dough, crusts, cookies, and crumbs. "I knew an idea so wacky, so extravagant, couldn't be anything but terrific," says Hervé Chandès. As director of the Fondation Cartier Pour l'Art Contemporain, Paris, Chandès was the man who initially approached Jean Paul Gaultier about mounting a fashion-related show. "He's very mischievious," Chandès says of Gaultier. "He immediately proposed doing something that wouldn't take itself too seriously."
Now through October 10, the 20 baked goodies on display include Gaultier's signature navy-blue striped sailor T-shirt, two versions of Madonna's "cone" getup from 1990, a Scarlett O'Hara–style gown with a smart little bread-basket bodice, and a Mae West hourglass number with a baguette-filled wicker corset and voluptuously round loaves ballooning from the bustier. For accessories, he added a flaky pastry umbrella, a Marie Antoinette wig with swirly meringue curls, and a toast-brown Kelly bag with shiny bread-stick straps, a wink at his recent first collection for Hermès.
Just like couture seamstresses do, 17 master bakers started with the designer's sketches. Teams molded various mixtures of dough, carefully calibrating the changes in size, shape, color, and texture that would occur in the oven. His creations were then assembled using string and wire as well as special wicker frames made in a Loire Valley village famous for basketwork since the 15th century.
It was a trial-and-error process, and Gaultier insisted that some of the bloopers be shown, too. They're down in the Fondation Cartier's basement, alongside a working bakery where real bakers slice into 55-pound blocks of butter (and munch on the finished product). Some of the sailor-striped croissants, baguettes, and country loaves are destined for the visitor shop. Others refurbish the show itself.
Replacing stale and hardened elements has proved much easier than expected, and part of the charm of the show is its evolving, ephemeral nature—which is exactly in line with Gaultier's philosophy. In his opinion, fashion design is less an exalted art than craftsmanship, not unlike the work of a skilled boulanger or patissier.