Jean-Paul Gaultier is renowned for many things – his exceptional tailoring, his conical bras, his impassioned approach to socio-political causes in fashion – and, on September 2, 1992, all of these elements united for a show that definitely mattered. In honour of amFAR (The American Foundation for AIDS Research), Gaultier held a fashion benefit whose runway included everything from lip-synching to Dr Ruth dressed in rubber to raise money for a cause that devastated (and continues to devastate) communities around the world.
“Tonight will be about protection… wear rubber and protect yourself!” explained Gaultier before the amFAR 1992 show. “I think fashion can make people think… and what will be important in the 90s will be to wake up and look at what is happening in the world.”
In The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, Suzy Menkes states that “The burgeoning sexual freedom of women, seeded in the 1960s, culminated in Gaultier’s costume design for Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. This rebel-with-a-corset moment was when runway and stage merged, bringing to a global public the vision of the conical bra that the designer had revealed first on the catwalk in the early 1980s.”
The amFAR show came only two years after the iconoclastic series of shows and heavily incorporated its motifs into the pieces used (alongside Gaultier’s long-standing house codes), culminating in Madonna herself removing a tailored jacket to reveal breasts bared within a frame bra – apparently, an unchoreographed decision. As the Director of The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Nathalie Bondil explains, “During the ancient régime, for a man to show his legs was a sign of phallic power; for Madonna to expose her breasts in a Gaultier-designed cone bra proclaims feminine power” – and that was the overarching theme of the show: liberating the disenfranchised through a spectacular display of fashion and celebrity.
Held at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, the event was chaired by Herb Ritts and Madonna and raised over $700,000 for AIDS research. Set out like the streets of Paris, with a streetlight and a bench, over 140 outfits were shown within the space of an hour to 630 guests. Models wearing berets were interspersed with performance acts and Anthony Kiedis in striped rubber, lip-syncs followed music from the likes of Luther Vandross and Patti LaBelle. Everyone was on top form; as Madonna recounted, “I was supposed to wear a top and jacket like Jean Paul’s, but at the last minute I decided it was better to go out topless!” and her laid-back enthusiasm is one that seemed to reverberate through all of those involved. (www.anothermag.com)