Remember when Robin Williams threw on a set of rock hard abs? The buttoned-down shirt was from Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring-Summer 1996 collection, “Pin Up Boys,” and featured an unmistakably chiseled male torso rendered in red and white halftone dots.
The print was a “trompe l’oeil,” meaning “trick of the eye.” According to Getty Images, the photo was taken sometime in 1996 — and while the exact location of the image is unknown, it seems Williams’ look was fresh off the runway.
The comedian wore the shirt sometime in 1996, according to Getty Images. Credit: Fotos International/Getty Images
The 1990s were a fruitful period for the late comedian’s career. From his seminal performance as “Mrs Doubtfire” in 1993 — a movie that grossed $441 million on a $25 million budget — to the equally triumphant box office smash hits “Jumanji” (1995) and “Good Will Hunting” (1997), the decade was filled with red carpet events, paparazzi and, for Williams, more opportunities to flex his tragically underestimated fashion credentials.
Meanwhile, the Jean Paul Gaultier brand was busy oozing sex appeal. In 1991, Gaultier sent a houndstooth bodysuit and matching fetish mask modeled after London’s club kids down the runway. In 1992, a nipple-bearing harness-turned-bralette was debuted by supermodel Eva Herzigova. Gaultier’s boundary-pushing vision even earned him the nickname “enfant terrible.”
Williams, a physically unassuming 45-year-old comedian, donning the sex-soaked designs of Jean Paul Gaultier in broad daylight illustrates he understood fashion’s power to subvert. Fashion and comedy may at first seem like immiscible industries, but in reality both hinge on challenging and deconstructing expectations.
Jean-Paul Gaultier wearing one of his own trompe l’oeil muscle suit jackets in 1996. Credit: Ron Galella Collection /Getty Images
The language of fashion
A model walks the runway during the Y/Project Menswear Fall/Winter 2022-2023 show as part of Paris Fashion Week 2022. Credit: Peter White/Getty Images
Kylie Jenner wore Balmain’s version of the optical illusion naked dress to the Billboard Awards earlier this year. Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
There’s no denying that the current trompe l’oeil relaunch is more sexy than subversive. More often than not, these dresses are accentuating the curves of surgically enhanced women — instead of turning the impossibly high standards of physical beauty into a punchline, like Williams did 25 years ago. But all it takes is one unlikely visionary to inject some fun into fashion, and we’re due for another.