“My eccentricity became direction.” --Jean Paul Gaultier--
We shall remember him for his untamed expression and audacity to speak out for diversity using his funky, rebellious and witty creations.
Jean Paul Gaultier has derived his creative force from societal facets that are not in the norm genre of where one would go for inspiration.
Living in a city engulfed by the couture mentality that mimics the air of an aristocracy, he courageously went on to break the Parisian code with his freedom of expression audacity.
Such bravery rarely displayed in the fashion culture in the past, got him known as the “Enfant terrible”, denoting his rebellious design interpretations for the minority in society.
His massive count of admirers, celebrities et al., await his works with an anticipation like no other. He belongs to the very few in the category of venerated designers.
The spectrum of his work is so comprehensive, that trying to fit him in one drawer would be an utterly impossible pursuit.
This immeasurable achievement has seen him catapult to become one of the world’s most important designers. A true giver to diversity in fashion design. Putting 50 years of his work in words is a tall order, but let’s give it our best shot.
Where Did it All Start?
He was born on April 24, 1952 in Arcueil, Val-de-Marne, a suburb South of Paris, to a bookkeeper and cashier.
The sparks that moulded who he is today, were ignited in his early childhood with the help of his loving maternal grandmother, Marie and his teddy bear, Nana.
The grandmother’s closet filled with all the things one can imagine, her hair-dos, make-up and who counselled her clients to dress better for their lives, influenced the young Jean Paul in a huge way. A high affinity to fashion was born.
His teddy bear, Nana and who he affectionately calls, “the Monster” was the go-to experimental guinea pig for all the ideas he captured from his grandma, mother and television. He coloured and cut its hair, operated the abdomen, you name it. But the star deed on Nana, was to make a cone shaped newsprint bra just like those of his grandmother’s. The reason why, Nana, is never left behind whenever there is an exhibition of Gaultier’s work.
Being surrounded by women who were strong, clever, diverse and human made him develop the charisma we all know so well and the driving force for his expressions.
At only the age of 13, he was designing clothes for his mother and grandmother. And hence, began developing his own collections and sketches. He sketched two collections per year for fun. He kept up to date in all things fashion and derived inspiration from fashion magazines and television. The 60s, a lavish fashion decade, was definitely an exciting and teaching time for him.
The Flower Power and Punk Meet the Runway
Just before his 18th birthday, he sent some of his design sketches to several Parisian designers, with the hope of getting a chance in this world he had immersed himself in at such an early age and yes, his lucky star was by his side.
Pierre Cardin, a renowned couturier at the time, recognised the talent of the autodidact designer and made him his assistant in 1970.
He gathered even more training and experience from names like, Jacques Esterel, Patou and Christian Lacroix in his early career years.
In 1976, he presented his first prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) collection.
This collection caused a sensation with its outlandish creations that had influences from the Punk movement at the time. He used unconventional models like the old, over-weight, pierced and the tattooed, to present his work.
His love for London was born from seeing such attributes freely expressed there, as opposed to the stiff Parisian way he was used to.
Difference, that’s what made and makes Jean Paul Gaultier tick!
An Obsession of The Rebellious Inspires
Denim is clothing that almost everyone possesses in their wardrobe today. What many do not know, is that just the other day, it was not the go-to-choice of garment, due to societal norms and believes that it was not mainstream. It took the movements of the, 60s and 70s, to reverse this notion.
In the 60s cinema, stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean were seen wearing denim in their rebellious films. Jean Paul Gaultier loved these films especially and was totally obsessed by this kind of image that added new seeds to his inspiration.
He also had an extremely bona fide love to masculinity in women. A woman he loved especially was Farida, the “Queen of Punk”, from the Parisian post rebellion era of the 70s. The freedom she expressed in dressing at that time, injected extra adrenalin to his design veins.
Punk hair and piercings also adding on to his “different is beautiful”, motto.
These inspirations were the cornerstones to his early collections.
Couture with a Difference
Many have seen Gaultier’s works as provocative, dramatic or even alarming, but he begs to differ.
The fashion critic, Cathy Horyn, once said of him to be “projecting women’s breasts as missile launchers.”
He has always waded against the tide and is a gust of fresh air in the couture world.
His debut haute couture show, in 1997, cemented his reputation as a craftsman once and for all.
One such collection that made a stir, was that inspired by the rabbis.
While visiting New York City, he sighted a bunch of rabbis walking past the New York Public Library. He was struck by the aesthetically beautiful and strong impression the group radiated.
This inspired him in wanting to draw a parallel and shining a light on the social issues perceived and deemed on as minority. Be it religious, social standing, ethnic origin or sexuality, being proud of who you are and coming together as a one, the negative ideologies are greatly lessened, is what he says.
Here are some of his collections that have been provoking and even shocking to some people:
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- The Urban Jungle
- Parisian Gypsies
- Sleepy Hollow
- Boarding School
- Joan of Arc
Diversity That Merges
A very strong believer in diversity on the runways, Gaultier has like no other, used his catwalks as a melting pot of multi-ethnic design explosions. He has reconstructed society as a cocktail letting the richness of each collection tell a story about diversity.
With collections like; Urban Jungle, Geishas at the Louvre, African marabouts, Chic rabbis, Chinese women dressed as Flamenco dancers, Russian icons, Bollywood Maharajahs, Bedouins of Barbes, he erases the boundaries and gives identity to diverse cultures.
The melting pots we know are of big cities in scattered lands, but Jean Paul Gaultier, gathers them all together and makes a party of diversity on his runways. There’s no other like him!
Expression through Inclusivity
The use of global ethnic techniques and pieces like; Chinese satin brocade, kimonos, Mongolian vests, Greek fustanellas, turbans, fezzes and more, have enriched his collections and have given him a badge of a true international citizen.
Exotic details of the animal kingdom with; beaded leopard pelts, studded python skin, feathers and more, all emulate a surrealistic interpretation of planetary inclusivity.
The attention to detail on these haute couture pieces, is breathtakingly, in its own class.
The Iconic Cone Bra
The cone bra corset is by far the most iconic of all his masterpieces.
Although originally designed for Nana, his teddy bear, Madonna is really the one who brought it to stardom. She gave it full life when she initially unveiled it to the world in 1990 in Chiba, Japan. This was the first stop of her world famous “Blonde Ambition” tour. Imagine the reactions of those present!
The conical corset that holds the breasts in pointed suspense and pushed to an absurd and uplifting degree, displays femininity tinged with a humour-filled aggressiveness.
This sassy bra speaks for the liberation of women.
Every detail of the silhouette culminates a sophisticated seduction which enhances the feminine attributes and breathes freedom from the confines of the norm.
Vintage being the style to go to currently and ranking high on the sustainability charts, Maison Gaultier must be all smiles, in pioneering provocativeness in fashion that is today a normality.
Gaultier gave himself a stamp of a “visionary extraordinaire”. He saw the women’s revolutions that would take place decades later. He gave them the “courage” to be themselves and more.
This touching revelation has been curved on stone for all time, if you ask me. An emblem for many.
Classics in The Perfume World
The Jean Paul Gaultier perfume bottles and cans are recognisable from a mile away.
His massive hit fragrance “Classique” eau de parfum and eau de toilette which became a hit since its launch in 1993, embodies Gaultier’s vision of femininity. Yes, that one with the curvaceous corseted bottle.
Classique is supposedly inspired by Gaultier’s scent memories of his grandmother with a rose hint at its core. Many more fragrances were built from this.
And of course, the tin can which Gaultier refers to as, “like the one for cat food in the supermarket.” Originally designed for a bracelet, it is now an iconic element of packaging in the perfume industry.
All his fragrances continue to sell in luxury brand stores around the world.
He has also gone on to collaborate with other brands like Puig, a Spanish company also operating in the fragrance sector.
An Honorary Exhibition
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, was the first international exhibition dedicated to the incredible works of this French couturier. Debuting in Montreal in 2011, big world cities welcomed this historical event for the better half of that decade.
Organized around seven themes that traced the influences on Gaultier’s development, his creative career was seamlessly curated from when he emerged as a designer in the 1970s.
It featured approximately 140 haute couture and prêt-à-porter ensembles, from the designer’s earliest to his then recent collections.
Accessories, sketches, stage costumes, excerpts from films, and documentation of runway shows; concerts, and dance performances, as well as photographs by fashion photographers and contemporary artists who stepped into Gaultier’s world, explored how his avant-garde designs challenged societal, gender, and aesthetic codes in unexpected ways.
In collaboration with Maison Jean Paul Gaultier, the exhibition was organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Thiery-Maxime Loriot of the MMFA.
Besides creating for his own Maison, he was the Hermes creative designer from 2004 – 2011. Gaultier called his work with Hermes a “love story.”
He also designed costumes for films and shows, Luc Besson’s “Fifth Element” being one of them. The well-known series, “Eurotrash” was another project he is well known for as a presenter.
Was That Really the Final Bow?
On 22 February 2020, Jean Paul Gaultier bid the world of Haute Couture farewell at the Paris Fashion Week. 50 years in the crème de la crème of fashion.
He called his last show “First Upcycling Haute Couture Collection” and urged the necessity of recycling clothes. He has in the past criticised unnecessary and ridiculous fashion waste especially from big brands with far too many collections.
To sustainability, he said, “Goodbye to the spanking new, hello to the spanking old.”
Fashion designers Pierre Cardin, Gaultier's former mentor, and Christian Lacroix were also present.
Boy George took to the stage, studded with models and other stars, in a performance to close the Paris Fashion Week event.
It was a celebrity-studded extravaganza and party, that cheered that little boy that dressed his teddy, learned from the best and who never gave up fighting for the minority through his “Enfant terrible” couture design creations.
50 years later we toss t a giant change-maker in the couture world of design.
Given his way of going about things, he must have something hidden up his sleeve.
In eager anticipation, we can expect the unexpected.
What a legend! What a guy!