It may have been Liu Bolin‘s party, but it was Jean Paul Gaultier‘s show.
Last night the Chinese artist and the French designer were on hand at Soho’s Eli Klein Gallery to celebrate Bolin’s Lost In Fashion series. Bolin collaborated with Harper’s Bazaar Features & Special Projects Director Laura Brown on the ambitious project, in which he painted designers to camouflage them into fashion-related backgrounds. Bolin then photographed the hidden designers to stunning effect. Gaultier, Angela Missoni, Alber Elbaz, and Valentino‘s Maria Grazia Chiuri & Pierpaolo Piccioli were the chosen subjects.
This was an unusual series for Bolin, who is typically the subject of his own work. As such, it was no surprise that he let Gaultier share the spotlight — Bolin is a man who literally paints himself into the background.
The crowded gallery was hot and loud, and everyone wanted a moment with the effervescent Gaultier. Alan Cumming, Glenda Bailey, and Carolina Herrera all stopped to chat with the designer as we hung out in the periphery hoping to snag a minute or two with him. A woman next to us tried to ask a publicist if she could say hi. She had come with her art collector boyfriend, and had no clue her favorite designer would be in attendance.
When our moment came, Gaultier brought us to a corner of the gallery, in an attempt to escape the noise. No such luck. “Can we go outside?” he asked. Well, of course.
“I think I love collaborations with people that want me. I mean, in the way that somebody desires you,” Gaultier explained as we stood on the sidewalk. He is, after all, no stranger to collaborative work. “I am lucky because the ones that wanted me, I always loved their work. I have to feel the desire to do good collaborations. The love gives me the love also. I think that’s the best human feeling that can make you do things, no?”
He admitted he was claustrophobic, which made him posing for Bolin especially stressful. “I put on trousers, and they had to be painted. But the painting was with water, so it was cold. Little by little I realized I had to be three hours not moving, not moving at all. Almost not breathing! I was like, ‘My god, I will faint.’” He kept from fainting by sipping soda (Diet Coke, we presume) through a straw, and by Bolin hitting his limbs to induce feeling. “It was a real experience!”
Even outside Gaultier couldn’t help but be mobbed. A German magazine writer came over to say her hellos, showing off a knockout Gaultier piece she was wearing. “That’s my jacket! It’s still good!” he exclaimed. She beamed.
Inside we found Bolin in a sharp tweed blazer standing with a partygoer. He kindly asked us to speak slowly — “my English isn’t very good” — and talked to us about what drew him to the project: ”In my work, I’m painting myself. This time, I’m painting the designer. In my mind, the designer falls in their designs. It’s interesting to me. The climber dies in the mountains, the soldier dies in the battle, the designer falls in their clothes. This is their disaster.”
Earlier in the evening Bailey told us it was the indeed the first time Bolin had worked with fashion designers — and that it would be his last. “I think it’s because he’s used to it just being him,” she explained. “It’s him that’s in the picture and disappears. He was then asking someone else to take on that physical difficulty. Angela has paint in her hair to this day, Alber still complains about paint in his glasses!”
But it was well worth it. “I think the designers were so honored to be involved, and they really suffered for the art,” Bailey said, turning to the photos.”They’re all so astoundingly good, and I hear they’re all sold out!”
Photo by Zachary Bako