PARIS — Anouk Viale did not like the plungers protruding from her breasts.
Yes, she was supposed to be a Carmen Miranda version of a charwoman, with a blue plastic bucket filled with sponges, toilet scrubbers and yellow rubber gloves held tightly onto her head by a durag. And, yes, she was wearing a lime green body suit. And shimmering sapphire leggings. And black peep-toe platforms.
But plunger pasties were simply too much, she told the French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier. It was difficult to move with those pale wooden poles sticking out this way and that, Ms. Viale shouted from the stage, cupping the rubber suckers with her hands as she protested.
Try, Mr. Gaultier pleaded from his perch at the control panel in the center of the theater.
Ms. Viale gestured toward her torso, and glared.
“Sometimes, things must change,” Mr. Gaultier conceded. “That is fashion.”
Actually, it’s cabaret. To be specific, “Fashion Freak Show,” a musical revue of Mr. Gaultier’s 66-year-long life, directed (and costumed) by the designer, and scheduled to open at the Folies Bergère here on Wednesday, the closing day of this city’s fashion week. It’s a show, of a different kind.
Four years ago this month, Mr. Gaultier announced that he was shuttering his namesake ready-to-wear division to focus solely on his twice-a-year couture collections. “Commercial constraints, as well as the frenetic pace of collections, don’t leave any freedom, nor the necessary time, to find fresh ideas and to innovate,” he said at the time.
A few weeks later, he went to Berlin to catch the epic sci-fi musical “The Wyld, Out of This World,” staged by the former designer Thierry Mugler at the Friedrichstadt-Palast theater. And finally, released from the relentless fashion cycle, Mr. Gaultier began to daydream.
“I thought, ‘I would love to do a revue,’” he said during an interview this summer in his headquarters on Rue St.-Martin. He met with Berndt Schmidt, the director of the Berlin theater, and proposed a song-and-dance spectacle. “I thought I could do it all — direct, décor, costumes,” he remembered. Mr. Schmidt suggested that Mr. Gaultier focus on what he knew best: clothing design.
Mr. Gaultier acceded. “I said, ‘O.K., I’ll learn,’” the designer recalled. “And I did.”
The result was “The One Grand Show,” a 100-performer extravaganza at the Palast about a rave that stirs the souls of the past at an abandoned Weimar-era cabaret. (It also ran earlier this year.) The show’s director, Roland Welke, called it “the biggest Jean Paul Gaultier catwalk ever.”
From there, Mr. Gaultier started thinking about mounting his own show: a tour de force that would celebrate his passions, inspirations and obsessions.
He knew he wanted to stage it at the Folies Bergère, the storied Right Bank theater that has enchanted him since he first watched its television broadcasts as a boy. He knew he wanted the French filmmaker Tonie Marshall to co-direct. His career choice, he said, was sparked by Jacques Becker’s “Falbalas,” or “Paris Frills,” a 1945 drama film about the workings of a couture house that starred Ms. Marshall’s mother, Micheline Presle. In “Fashion Freak Show,” Ms. Presle, now 96 and still radiant, plays Mr. Gaultier’s beloved grandmother in one of the production’s videos.
Mr. Gaultier wrote the book with Raphaël Cioffi, a television screenwriter, and for the music he enlisted his friend, the guitarist Nile Rodgers, a founder of the rock group Chic. Mr. Rodgers assembled a soundtrack of 1980s and 1990s dance hits by Mr. Gaultier’s pals Madonna, Grace Jones and the French rock group Les Rita Mitsouko, and allowed the use of Chic’s disco anthem, “Le Freak,” as the show’s theme.
“Because,” Mr. Gaultier said, “Le Freak, c’est chic!”
For the choreography, Mr. Gaultier tapped seasoned Madonna backup dancer Marion Motin; for sets, he brought on Éric Soyer, a scenographer known for his work with Hermès; and for the video clips that serve as a backdrop, he commissioned the visual artist Renaud Rubiano. The costumes were made at Mr. Gaultier’s headquarters by a team of couture hands hired specifically for the project.
The pageant begins with a video of an operating theater: masked surgeons, wielding scalpels, set to give Mr. Gaultier’s teddy bear, Nana, a boob job, just as Mr. Gaultier did as a 7-year-old. (Ms. Viale’s cleaning lady ensemble ultimately was replaced by a fluffy golden bear costume, with Mr. Gaultier’s signature cone brassiere in place of the plungers.)
There are tableaux dedicated to Mr. Gaultier’s youth in the Paris suburb of Arcueil; the Swinging Sixties, a fecund design period that led him in 1970, on his 18th birthday, to join Pierre Cardin as a studio assistant; and the Folies Bergère, where, most famously, the African-American entertainer Josephine Baker shocked audiences in 1926 by cavorting across the stage wearing only a belt of dangling bananas. In Mr. Gaultier’s version, starring the lithe American model Anna Cleveland and the buff Cuban dancer Lazaro Cuerno Costa (both topless), the fruit is ablaze with yellow Swarovski crystals. (Mr. Gaultier actually attended Ms. Baker’s final performance, at the Bobino theater in Paris, in 1975. “Sublime,” he remembered.)
Actually, the cast is next-to-naked for a lot of the production, which also includes set pieces about Mr. Gaultier’s exploration of Paris’s S&M scene in 1970s, the legendary 1980s dance club Le Palace, and his collaboration with Madonna for her 1990 “Blond Ambition” tour, replete with down-and-dirty vogueing. There are mini fashion shows, of course, with original looks pulled from collections throughout Mr. Gaultier’s 40 years: the motorcycle jacket with a full white tulle skirt from his 1976 debut; the black garbage bag dress from 1979; and the camouflage couture ball gown from 2000. For one such défilé, there is a video of Catherine Deneuve, one of the designer’s muses, announcing each passage as she slugs Champagne.
There also is a quiet, touching tribute to Francis Menuge, Mr. Gaultier’s great love and business partner, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1990, and a hilarious (and biting) scene in which Ms. Viale as a power-suited Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, telecommunicates from the stage with an onscreen version of Karl Lagerfeld as reimagined by the Belgian-Congolese comedian Kody Kim.
“He is soooo ordinary,” snips a bewigged Mr. Lagerfeld/Kim, batting his black fan. “What a horror!”
“Awful. Just awful,” concurs Ms. Wintour/Viale, only to spin around and run into Mr. Gaultier’s theatrical stand-in, the Australian dancer Patric Kuo, dressed in the designer’s trademark French striped sailor sweater.
“Darling,” the faux Ms. Wintour gushes as she embraces him. “You are ah-may-zing.”
“The show caricaturizes, exaggerates and ridicules fashion,” Mr. Gaultier admitted. “But it is based on a discourse that is real.”
The night of the first preview, lines wrapped both directions around the block. The house was sold out. Like those at Mr. Gaultier’s catwalk shows, it was a mix of ages, races and gender identifications.
“I love Jean Paul — the spirit of him,” said Cate Brandouy, who works at the Institut Gustave Roussy, a cancer center in Villejuif, a suburb of Paris; she had donned a black satin corset in Mr. Gaultier’s honor. “He has such a lovely humor, and has always been inclusive, even before it was in fashion.”
Laurence Fiancet, a 54-year-old high school teacher from Versailles, agreed. “Jean Paul has remained simple — he’s a great couturier, but is still close to the people,” she said during intermission in the theater’s royal blue velvet and gold gilded lobby. “And we see that in this show. Such beautiful energy.”
For the finale, as a Best of Jean Paul montage flashed across the backdrop, cast members stripped down to their shell pink skivvies and G-strings, and struck a pose on a wide, Ziegfeld-like staircase.
The crowd leapt to its feet, whooping and cheering. Mr. Gaultier, in a black shirt and jeans, brown blazer and professorial eyeglasses, came out and eschewed his usual catwalk scamper for a more sedate bow. Then he began to collect the costumes strewn across the boards.
“Et voilà, that’s what I do,” he shrugged backstage after the curtain came down, as sweaty dancers embraced, mascara-tinged tears streaking their cheeks. “The designer always has to pick up the clothes.”