So what exactly does fashion icon Jean-Paul Gaultier think he's learned most about himself after seeing 30-plus years' worth of his eye-popping creations together in a new show at Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts?

Looking as surprised as someone who's just seen their first cone bra, Gaultier has to think a minute about the question.

"To see all that work at the same time, it's emotional," he says, warming up to the topic. "It's emotion, what I have learned, that I am always sensitive to emotion.

"It's a lot of emotion and also joy because I've had a lot of pleasure. I am one of the lucky ones who does what he loves, what he dreamed to do."

Not that it was all a bed of roses putting together the creations that saw him dubbed not only a genius but the bad boy of fashion, and the father of what some considered decadent designs.

"Doing a collection is quite hard," he said at the show preview on Tuesday.

"It's like [giving] birth. It's like my babies, all those clothes. But it's so good at the end that I don't regret anything."

Show includes animated mannequins, early work

Seen all at once, some might consider it a strange little brood and not one you're likely to see heading to the market.

There are dresses that look like flayed human skin, or someone covered in tattoos. There are cage dresses and those made from corsets.

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Gaultier earned a reputation as fashion's enfant terrible in the 1970s. (Canadian Press)

There's sailor suits, futuristic garb and a mix of international styles that look like they sprang from a jungle.

And there's the cone bra, made famous by pop icon Madonna in her 1990 Blond Ambition tour.

The show, titled "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk," also features designs and drawings that take the creative process full circle.

One of the most striking features is the use of animated mannequins.

They have faces projected onto their heads and at times appear to be speaking to the visitor and reciting bits of poetry or singing.

The pieces in the show were created between the early 1970s and 2010 and many have never been seen in public before.

The exhibit, which was created to mark the 35th anniversary of Gaultier's label, runs from Friday to Oct. 2 and then heads out on an international tour.

Montreal is the only Canadian stop.

Gaultier says exhibit 'fabulous'

Gaultier, who was never formally trained as a designer, began by sending out sketches to famous haute-couture stylists when he was young.

He was hired by Pierre Cardin as an assistant in 1970.

He released his first collection in 1976, although the more irreverent style that made his mark didn't start appearing until a few years later.

'I am very happy and proud of this exhibition. I feel at home. I could even sleep there.'—Jean Paul Gaultier

Gaultier said he was pleased with the Montreal museum show, saying he was reluctant to have exhibits in the past "because for me, it's a funeral, an exhibition in a museum."

"I thought the shows were enough because I am alive," he added.

But Gaultier was intrigued by the idea of expanding on what he's trying to express through the clothes, and he views the show as a creation in its own right rather than a retrospective.

"It was an opportunity to show all my themes," he said, describing the exhibit as "fabulous."

"I am very happy and proud of this exhibition. I feel at home," he said. "I could even sleep there."

Nathalie Bondil, the museum's chief curator, said she wants to explore fashion design in the museum's shows and noted it has done earlier exhibits showcasing such designers as Yves Saint Laurent.

"Jean Paul Gaultier is a contemporary artist and what he says really goes beyond fashion," Bondil said.

She says such a show gives people a chance that they normally wouldn't have to see haute couture up close.

"If you don't have this direct experience, if you don't feel this sensual experience of the clothes, it is not possible to understand the level of quality, of excellence that is brought by the haute couture.

"A museum should put on display objects that are not accessible."