The latest mega show at Berlin’s Friedrichstadt-Palast features mirror balls sharpened into cone bras, wacky inflatable costumes bobbing around a vast swimming pool, and roughly 100 million Swarovski crystals — one weighing 400 pounds.
Credit for all that fantasy and sparkle goes to Paris fashion legend Jean Paul Gaultier, curator and visual design director of the new cabaret-style revue that premiered Wednesday night in the German capital.
“Each time it’s a new story, and that means you need to find something else, something different,” he said. “So creativity is involved, definitely. And that is very exciting.”
About 1,900 attended the opening night including Gaultier, Irish musical twins Jedward, Austrian singer and drag performer Conchita Wurst, American actress Joy Sunday and French actor William Abadie.
“Falling | In Love” is the title of the ambitious show, billed as the most expensive ever mounted by the state theater, owned by the City of Berlin. The production budget was nearly 14 million euros and it is slated for a two-year run.
Part Moulin Rouge, part Cirque du Soleil, part rock concert, the “grand shows” served up by Friedrichstadt-Palast involve more than 100 performers, including singers, dancers and acrobats. The entire ensemble comprises around 500 people from 28 nations.
The new show’s protagonist is a young, deaf and mute poet who doesn’t fit into any mold. While passionate and full of longing, he lives in the kind of joyless, hopeless place where one wishes to be swallowed up by a hole in the ground.
Lo and behold, he falls through “the gray asphalt of civilization” into a “hidden garden of love” where he experiences “the eternal human dream of a better world,” according to the theater.
Enter Gaultier, who sketched colorful, otherworldly sets — some wet, some dry — and more than 400 costumes that bring the story to life.
In an interview with WWD, the designer — who created the all-singing, all-dancing autobiographical cabaret “Fashion Freak Show” in 2018 — said he puts himself in the position of the spectator.
“I tried to make what I felt was best for each character,” he said. “We also had to create an atmosphere and ensure a visual impact.”
Cue a kaleidoscope of vivid hues.
“You know, you can say a lot of things through colors,” Gaultier said, explaining that the show depicts “three tribes — a blue one, a red one and a green one, and at the end it becomes a rainbow. Of course, all of that is symbolic, making color a key element in creating the show.”
According to the theater, the word “falling” in the show title alludes to the sense of foreboding felt by many people in these troubled times, though the ultimate message of the show is one of hope.
“We believe in the beauty of this world and in the good of people, despite everything,” said Berndt Schmidt, general director and producer at the theater, suggesting that visitors will fall into “a sea of love.”
Gaultier said he related strongly to the narrative, and the show’s uplifting message.
“The story is quite positive, and that’s why I loved it,” he said. “It’s all about what’s happening now, with different tribes fighting, here represented with different colors. So of course, it relates to racism and the differences that can separate people. But like I said, different colors can come together and become a rainbow, so it’s symbolic of inclusivity, unity, fluidity, and also celebrating differences.”
The designer noted that the protagonist is handicapped, but overcomes this and is able to communicate with people. “So it shows what could happen to the world, and what has to happen to the world.”
Gaultier’s costumes recall elements from his vast and eclectic oeuvre, achieved over a career spanning 50 years. There are caged constructions, cone bras, samurai collars, body-swallowing catsuits and strong-shouldered tailoring.
And as was always the case at his energetic runway shows, each outfit is matched to strikingly original hairstyles and makeup — or jarringly juxtaposed, as in the powdered Marie-Antoinette wigs paired with biker leathers in one scene of “Falling | In Love.”
Demonstrating that he still has a taste for fashion’s outer fringes, Gaultier conscripted the alien-looking Canadian couple known as Fecal Matter, and the Russian performance artist Sasha Frolova, synonymous with latex and abstract forms, to costume several scenes.
“I was interested in collaborating with some people whose work I love,” Gaultier said.
Fecal Matter’s Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj Bhaskaran question gender boundaries and ideals of beauty with their fashions, while slyly poking fun at consumerism.
The pale, bald duo — partial to darkened eyeballs, zombie makeup and body dysphoria — founded Fecal Matter in 2016 and today boast 743,000 followers on Instagram. They created close to 50 costumes for the Berlin show, with one stole resembling a headless, two-tailed fish wrapped around the shoulders.
“I thought that they could be fabulous for this show. I like how they look, and how they present themselves because their expression is unique and gives some emotion that I am not able to give,” Gaultier said. “I think they bring something very interesting for that show.”
Frolova makes sculptures, digital art and inflatable latex costumes that are colorful, cartoonish and otherworldly.
“I love her work, she’s a real artist,” Gaultier enthused of the 45 looks she created for the stage. “It’s truly something that’s perfect for a show like this — it’s beyond fashion, and truly creative. Visually, it’s fantastic — like a dream.”
The new show at Friedrichstadt-Palast represents an encore for Gaultier, who had designed around 500 costumes for “The One” revue that opened in 2016.
The famed couturier, who retired from the runway in 2020, was more than happy to again fill what’s billed as the largest theater stage in the world.
“When you are designing a fashion collection, you create it with your style, but it’s creating clothes men and women can actually buy and wear. It’s a business, so there are some codes to respect, and many rules,” he said.
By contrast, creating costumes for a revue at Friedrichstadt-Palast means exerting a boundless creativity to create fantasy worlds. “So it’s very different,” Gaultier enthused.
That said, he stressed that he must respect the narrative. “There is a story you have to follow, and it is not my story,” Gaultier explained. “You must be careful to create things that compliment the story and doesn’t change its spirit or objectives.”
Oliver Hoppmann, creative director of Friedrichstadt-Palast since 2015, authored the new show and also directed it. “Falling | In Love” unfurls over two hours, with a 30-minute intermission. Ticket prices start at around 30 euros.