Freak out: Telling a fashion life, Gaultier taps Nile Rodgers

by Shaun TANDON
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Fashion Designer Jean Paul Gaultier, left, and Record Producer Nile Rodgers are collaborating on a genre-blurring "Fashion Freak Show" to open on October 2 in Paris

Deciding how to tell his story as one of fashion's edgiest designers, Jean Paul Gaultier knew there had to be music. And he knew it had to come from Nile Rodgers.

The designer who has brought playful and provocative clothes to the world's runways for four decades is turning the focus to himself with an autobiographical show to open on October 2 in Paris.

More than a catwalk and not quite a musical, the genre-blurring "Fashion Freak Show" will bring out Gaultier's iconic designs as well as new outfits and tell his life through actors, models and a live singer.

Spearheading the music will be the creator of "Le Freak" himself -- Nile Rodgers, the force behind disco titans Chic and the behind-the-scenes producer for a who's who of stars from Madonna to Diana Ross to Daft Punk.

"Truly, honestly, if there was one person I would think about for the music, it was him," Gaultier told AFP at Rodgers's seafront home in Connecticut, the walls covered with guitars and framed records of the producer's hits by artists including David Bowie and The B-52s.

"He is part of my life," Gaultier said. "Everybody loves his songs, has danced to them, has been in love with someone because of his music."

Rodgers -- who affectionately calls the 66-year-old Gaultier, five months his senior, "J.P." -- said that the show would feature both new music and classic songs.

But Rodgers said he plans to rework some of the better-known tracks to serve as underscores during the show, which will take place at the celebrated Folies Bergere cabaret hall.

"When you're dealing with a theatrical piece, you are absolutely dealing with an emotional arc," Rodgers said. "And that emotional arc may not be served properly with the original music. It has to change a bit."

- Fashion to advance music -

Gaultier has been deeply involved in the music world.

In 1989, he recorded a now-obscure dance track, "How to Do That," his vocals delivered in his rapid-fire, irrepressibly enthusiastic yet heavily accented English.

But his biggest influence in music came through his work with Madonna.

He designed some of the more headline-grabbing items from her "Blond Ambition" tour in 1990 including her bullet-like cone bra and the golden corset she sported when she sang "Like a Virgin," a track produced by Rodgers.

Gaultier, who has also designed clothes for Beyonce, Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga and Rihanna as well as plenty of Hollywood royalty, rocked the fashion world by mixing up traditional gender roles and has been wildly experimental when imagining costumes for films such as Luc Besson's science-fiction "The Fifth Element."

But the French designer, who was inspired as a child by playing in his grandmother's closet, said he saw more creativity in music.

"I don't think of fashion as art," Gaultier said.

"Fashion is supposed to be superficial. It's true that by fashion you can express yourself a little and tell things, but it's not like music that goes through your nose, your ears, everywhere," he said.

"Music is something very beautiful and that we truly need, like eating."

- Creating an 'emotion' -

Rodgers, sporting a white sports coat made of a collage of newspaper prints, said he did consider fashion to be art -- but saw the overwhelming power of music.

"It's the only art that chases you down the street," Rodgers said.

The "Fashion Freak Show" is scheduled to run through April. Rodgers said he imagined shaking it up frequently, including making adjustments during intermission, and could envision creating a television version.

"What we're trying to create is not only an experience that happens with you, but I think an emotion that you internalize and that you take back home with you," Rodgers said.

Fashion Designer Jean Paul Gaultier, left, and Record Producer Nile Rodgers are collaborating on a genre-blurring "Fashion Freak Show" to open on October 2 in Paris

Gaultier, who was inspired as a child by playing in his grandmother's closet, says he sees more creativity in music