Despite the retrospective glance, this collection felt bang-on for now.
Maybe it was his Montreal retrospective, maybe it was hitting the big three-oh (thirty haute couture collections to his name, that is) or maybe he just had a rifle through his back catalogue as a bit of self-congratulatory back-slapping, but Jean Paul Gaultier seemed in a retrospective mood for his Autumn/Winter 2011 couture show. Then again, when you've made the transition from Cardin assistant to Paris' punkature enfant terrible to the inheritor of Yves Saint Laurent's mantle as France's favourite couturier (awarded by none less than le maître himself), you're allowed a greatest hits collection every now and again.
Actually scratch that: it's tempting to borrow from long-time, long-term Gaultier fan Madonna in dubbing this his 'Immaculate Collection', because everything hit the right note. The theme? Well, if there was any, it was Gaultier past, present and future. The latter is the important one because, despite the retrospective glance, this collection felt bang-on for now. That's possibly because Gaultier plays with the classics - he's one of the few with the skills to twist trench-coats, tailored suits and leather Perfectos without his toying seeming trite or overworked. This time, he literally twisted them, pinching peplums at the hip for his opening numbers which managed to avoid the time-warp bear-trap of the New Look, and just look new.
Against those new looks Gaultier resurrected a favourite old trick: L'Homme Couture. Why should haute couture only be for women? Gaultier wrapped his boys in beaded chiffon trousers, velvet smoking jackets elongated into something halfway between a dress and a dressing-gown, and sent out a couple in skirts. Jokey pun? Well, they were eerily similar to the stuff we saw a few weeks ago at menswear, never mind Gaultier's first male skirts in the early eighties.
If those are the Gaultier trademarks reworked, a few pieces were direct quotes from the archives. A parrot-plumed ballgown recalled a Macaw-inspired bolero from his very first couture show in 1997, and a feathered Fair Isle with iridescent chiffon skirt was pulled piecemeal from Autumn/Winter 1998. It still looked great today, as did a padded satin lingerie gown with anatomically enhanced breasts and hips, eighteenth-century underpinnings reworked for 2089.
Gaultier evidently had fun with this collection. There was a sense of joy to proceedings that managed to carry it through even its less successful moments. The catwalk clanger is a Gaultier tradition too - here it was Mylene Farmer as a comedy bride sporting a tattered Stephanie-Seymour-in-November-Rain wedding frock. But we can forgive Gaultier for going over the edge in his enthusiasm, given how infectious it was. The wonderful thing about this Gaultier show was that it took you on a whirlwind trip through the career of French fashion's greatest national treasure, without feeling like a hollow rehash of a glittering career - especially as that career is very much alive and kicking. As is haute couture, judging by this riposte to anyone who may suggest the art form is dying.