The Lost Column: Gaultier vs. Winehouse

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Another day, another designer gets accused of acting in poor taste. This time it’s french couturier, Jean Paul Gaultier. The alleged victim of his questionable actions is deceased chanteuse Amy Winehouse – a woman not totally acquainted with elegance and subtlety in her tragically short lifetime.

​Gaultier unveiled a couture collection this week that was totally wrapped around Winehouse. The clothing was very Amy; nipped in pencil skirts, Fred Perry-ish polo shirt details, Back to Black ​ veils and a strap ever falling off the model’s shoulders. The models, by the way, were trussed up in beehive wigs of different colours – only the cigarettes dangling from their lips were uniform.

​Bad taste? Definitely. But an insult? Maybe not. In conversation with Vogue, Amy’s father Mitch Winehouse said, ‘To see her image lifted wholesale to sell clothes was a wrench we were not expecting or consulted on. We’re proud of her influence on fashion but find black veils on models, smoking cigarettes with a barbershop quartet singing her music in bad taste. It portrays a view of Amy when she was not at her best, and glamorises some of the more upsetting times in her life. That’s upsetting for her family’.

​Those unfamiliar with Amy Winehouse’s story will probably have a lot of sympathy. Mitch Winehouse has often acted as an unofficial spokesperson for his daughter. A totally superfluous, unnecessary, possibly exploitative spokesperson who made a lot of money from his daughters woes as well as her successes. If Gaultier is a kettle, then Winehouse is a bloody massive pot.

​Nor can Gaultier be accused of railing against type – the man did co-present the first seven series of Eurotrash (alongside Antoine De Caunes – the guy from the Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles ice pop ad – and now-deceased owner of the world’s largest breasts, Lolo Ferrarri). It’s not exactly The Royal Variety show – unless the Royal Variety has started featuring porn stars in its roster.

​Amy Winehouse herself, the third point in this couture triangle, became an item of kitsch as soon as she died. On walking down the famous Portobello Road market, you can spot alongside the red telephone boxes and teddy bear beefeaters Amy Winehouse’s face – on a plate. You can see it on paraphernalia almost as often an the queen. She has become an emblem. Of what I don’t know. Her voice has been taken from her.

​Gaultier takes a lot of trashy tropes and does what it incredibly difficult to do. He makes magic. His perfume bottles are modelled on the bodies of courtesans and caricatures of sailor rent boys. He designed Madonna’s cone bra. One of his couture collections was based around sexy little old ladies. He’s no minimalist.

​Famed fashion editor Diana Vreeland once said, ‘while good taste is innate, vulgarity is a very important ingredient… as long as it’s got vitality’.

​Gaultier has vitality, as most men who wear kilts on a regular basis do. It’s just a shame that Amy Winehouse can’t weigh in on the bad taste debate.

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