Known primarily as the man who dressed (amongst others) Madonna, Dita von Teese and the cast of The Fifth Element, Jean-Paul Gaultier may be retired but Fashion Freak Show is ample proof that he is hardly resting on his laurels.

As the creator, writer, co-director and (of course) costume designer, he is very much the driving creative force behind this two-hour-plus opus which debuted in Paris in 2018 and is stopping over in London’s Roundhouse before heading off to Tokyo in 2023. This heady blend of fashion, dance and technology presented in a vaguely cabaret format has a Gallic vibe throughout but you won’t need to brush off any French textbooks to comprehend Gaultier’s life story and philosophy.

In short episodes, Gaultier takes us step by step through his upbringing, his schooldays and starting off his career working with Pierre Cardin. Each chapter blends narrative with dance exquisitely with floor-to-ceiling LED screens providing visual context and flavour. We hear about how he created a “transgender” toy by applying his fanous cones to his teddy bear Nana before a troupe of dancing bears take to the stage for the first set piece. Before long, we see him in Seventies London, checking out the red light district and jiving to the Rocky Horror Show. Some of the second half is dedicated to remembering those killed by HIV/AIDS and the activists like cabaret singer Line Renaud who fought on their behalf.

Renaud isn’t the only guest star to appear in recorded segments. There are enough barely-known French faces this side of the channel to fill an entire new season of Dix Per Cent, not least singer Catherine Ringer, his schoolfriend the writer Jean Teule and actress Rossy de Palma. Catherine Deneuve is the most famous of those contributing and Antoine de Caunes (who worked with Gaultier on the cult favourite ‘90s show Eurotrash) is hilariously presented as the Queen.

While the humour is occasionally lost in translation, the costumes and choreography are spectacular. Gaultier created over a hundred outfits for this production and, married to Marion Motin’s effusive dance numbers, the effect is often explosive. There is very little connective tissue between the various chapters but there is a genuine sense of human connection in each and every scene. While some may undoubtably view this is as a vanity project (understandable especially considering how many hats Gaultier wears), it is neither indulgent not overlong and, in not pandering to theatrical convention, has created something quite unique.

Fashion Freak Show continues at the Roundhouse until August 28.

Image: BOBY