Jean Paul Gaultier's retrospective of his 40-plus years of fashion design would have been breathtaking even without bizarre talking mannequins. Gaultier himself greeted guests to a press preview party of the exhibit, open at San Francisco's de Young Museum from March 24 through August 19.

But it was the mannequins—chatting, chanting, reciting poetry—that struck awe in the crowd, and not just because several were wearing the signature cone brassier that Gaultier famously fitted on Madonna during her 1990 Blond Ambition tour. Video projections cast faces onto the mannequins, which were created by Denis Marleau and Stephanie Jasmin of UBU Compagnie de Creation during the retrospective's first stop in Montreal last fall. The technology took the exhibit to another level, but it's not necessarily what drives the enfant terrible behind "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk."

As Gaultier told Refinery 29, he's not a techie dude:

I have an iPhone, but only to send texts. I don't like that if someone is phoning me, I will be disturbed. I cannot do two things at one time. I have no iPod...I'm too distracted. Now, images are everywhere and I love it, but there are almost too many images. When I watch TV, I can just keep zapping all the time! But I don't want to be that excited. Even the Internet. It's just non-stop. I like to think alone with my brain and not over-communicate.

The Creepy Awesomeness of Talking Mannequins

So where do Gaultier's passions lie? Well, there's the cone bra, a motif seen throughout the exhibit. In fact, Gaultier has been making cone bras since he was six years old, starting with on for his teddy bear, Nana.

The Creepy Awesomeness of Talking Mannequins

After San Francisco, the show heads to the Fundación Mapfre - Instituto de Cultura, in Madrid, Spain, for September 26 through November 18, 2012. If you're in either city, pay a visit—the show is a must-see whether you're a fashion enthusiast or you just want to hear a mannequin belt out a Gregorian chant.

The Creepy Awesomeness of Talking Mannequins

The Creepy Awesomeness of Talking Mannequins

Images: Kristen Philipkoski