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Jean Paul Gaultier Says Farewell to the World of Fashion

by Bernardo van Eekhout in Lifestyle & Fashion , 18 May 2020

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 11 minuten

Fashion legends come and go. The world of fashion already had to say goodbye to Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Emanuel Ungaro and Karl Lagerfeld. Regrettably, Jean Paul Gaultier has now decided to call it quits. He is doing so for the second time in his career, as in 2014 he had already decided to stop his confection line of clothing.

photo Manfred Werner/Tsui - CC by-sa 3.0
After making confection for men and women for more than thirty-eight years, it seemed the right time to quit. He then only focused on his perfumes and haute couture line. “This is a new start. I can fully unleash my creativity with no limitations." The sixty-seven-year-old Gaultier is now also ending his haute couture line. The French “enfant terrible” is retiring.
Considering what Gaultier means for the fashion world, it is almost unbelievable that he did not attend any Fashion Academy. He has radically broken many existing clothing codes and demonstrated that clothing is not gender specific. His unconventional approach to clothing, often with a great sense of humor, quickly earned him the nickname “enfant terrible.” “Now that I am old, I am a kind of old ‘enfant terrible.’ But despite that nickname, I have always remained true to myself; I did not play the part of an ‘enfant terrible.’

Jean Paul Gaultier in his younger yearsI was always honest, and did not do these things to shock people. I was aware of the fact that it could be shocking to some. In fact, I just wanted to show what I thought was normal or beautiful. In the end, I was the one who was shocked by certain types of intolerance. Fashion is what life is about. It is a reflection of what is going on, of the society in which we live. I live for my work and I have been able to make it my life. In that respect, I have made my childhood dream come true.”

In addition to his own fashion label, he worked as a designer for the chic French label Hermès, designed costumes for various films and theater productions, designed interior objects, released a make-up line for men, and launched successful perfumes for both men and women.

Unlike some other colleagues in the fashion world, Gaultier has never made a secret of his sexual orientation. This openness soon gave him considerable freedom, while other French couturiers were afraid it would harm their sales. Gaultier exactly remembers the day he found out he was gay.

Jean Paul Gaultier in 1982 “My grandmother gave me a book about homosexuality when I was twelve. Did she know? She knew I was sensitive. She did not give me many books to read, so I think she thought to herself: if it ever happens to him... It was her way of approving, and I found that very moving.”

Gaultier’s great love was Francis Menuge. He was not only his partner, but also his business partner. Together, they founded the Gaultier fashion house in 1982. They met in 1975 through a school friend. “It was love at first sight. Both boys and girls fell in love with him. He was very attractive, brilliant and extremely intelligent. If I had not met Francis, I would probably never have ventured out for myself. That I was with him gave me the confidence I needed. He encouraged me to start my own label. The label was our baby.”
When a French newspaper was quite insulting about the first men’s skirt that Gaultier showed, Gaultier and Francis were deeply taken aback. They saw it as condescending criticism against homosexuals in general. When the couple was invited to the Élysée for a meeting with the French president, Francis took the opportunity to make a statement. He wore a long pinstripe skirt under his blazer in protest. In 1990, Francis died unexpectedly. Due to the death of his friend/partner, Gaultier lost his appetite for designing. He doubted whether he should stop or continue.

“My fashion sense did not match the prevailing spirit of the times anymore and people started to get tired of me. I thought the world had had enough of me.” Nevertheless, it took until 2014 for Gaultier to stop his convection clothing line altogether. In particular, he had a growing dislike of the commercial obligations that he increasingly had to meet. “I no longer felt the passion of the past. I was losing that passion, and so I decided to stop. I still love fashion but decided to focus on only a small part of it, my haute couture line. Thus, giving all those other young designers a chance who are currently out there and are so very talented.”

Gender Neutral

photo Lev Radin/ Shutterstock.comWhen it comes to his choice of models, Gaultier was a true pioneer and far ahead of his time. From the very beginning of his career, he tackled gender stereotypes and unconventional ideas of beauty. He broke with the prevailing tradition of beauty and model choice by sending various models onto the catwalk: fat, thin, pregnant, old, non-white models and transvestites, all mixed together.

Gaultier made fashion for everyone; not just for an elite group of people. His choice for diversity of models can be explained by Gaultier’s youth.

“In primary school I was already in a mixed school. I have always been attracted to different types of beauty. To me, all skin colors are beautiful and I learned that from my parents at a young age. They never made a distinction between people in terms of their skin color, religion or sexual preference. I like to show different skin colors in my choice of models. Mannequins are very important and I always choose them myself. The model’s personality is very important to me. I would like to show the people of today, but above all show people what they look like nowadays. It needs to be true to life."

"When I started as a designer, all models were pretty much the same: a sort of Swedish type, with all of them long blond hair. Very nice, but almost the same in appearance. I thought that there was another kind of beauty. I think diversity is beautiful, and it is that very same diversity I wanted to show. At the time, Yves Saint Laurent was one of the few designers to have his clothing displayed by black models. By using non-professional models, they often walked in a different way, not like the professionals did, and I loved that. I wanted them to walk just like they would normally do. I often find the attitude and appearance of a non-professional model more important and more inspiring than that of a professional.”

To celebrate his fifty years in fashion, Gaultier organized an open casting for his very last couture show on January 22 in the Théâtre du Châtelet. This means that for this, everyone could register as a model (professional or not). “It has been a long time since I held an open casting. I like to be inspired and surprised. It could be someone’s hairstyle, or a beautiful physical appearance, a certain attitude, or a mix of a certain look. The main message of this casting is that there is not one particular form or expression of beauty but different forms. The point is that people who are different embrace these differences. It is precisely that diversity that I want to show. All kinds of differences, not just one, but many different kinds. So that means many different and diverse types.”

There were also all kinds of celebrities participating, such as Dita Von Teese, Amanda Lear, Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, French singer Mylène Farmer, and top models such as Erin O’Conner, Eva Herzigova and Yasmin Le Bon. For Paris Jackson (the daughter of Michael Jackson) it was her catwalk début as a model. “I wouldn’t have missed this experience for the world. I was very nervous during the casting, but when wearing my final outfit, it all felt very natural. I was crying it out when I was told I could do the show. I will never forget the whole experience. I was and am absolutely honoured.”

The Men’s Skirt

No item of clothing has remained as controversial as the men’s skirt, although Gaultier already showed it in his 1985 “Et Dieu Créa L’Homme" collection. His men’s skirts made the front pages of all French newspapers. Some of the audience in attendance laughed with admiration or incomprehension at the sight of the “skirty” pants and sarongs for men that Gaultier shamelessly sent onto the catwalk. Others angrily left the premises because how could anyone scold manhood that much? At the time, the pants skirts with smooth pleats and the wrap-around skirts could still shock the seasoned fashion journalists. Gaultier, however, never intended to present the men’s skirt as a fashion gimmick, but for years has been trying to introduce the men’s skirt as an essential and serious part of the male wardrobe. Incidentally alongside designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, who often also show men’s skirts in their collections.

with the bra he designed for Madonna
Gaultier knows better than anyone how to combine male and female elements in male fashion in a humorous way. He plays with established dress codes and with both sexes in a playful and sometimes provocative way. Because Gaultier is clearly not in favor of gender-based clothing traditions. What is typically male or female, Gaultier wonders? “With the exception of the corset, clothing has no gender. The Roman gown, the Indian sari, and the Japanese kimono are all proofs of unisex garments. I’m only trying to make men look more sensitive, sensual and seductive. A skirt is actually nothing special for a man, is it? "

"I want to show that men also have a feminine side to them. Already at the age of twelve I wanted to put on a skirt. In Antiquity, men were already wearing them, and even now entire nations think it is the most natural thing in the world. A skirt has nothing to do with sex characteristics, such as a bra, for instance. That is a typical functional piece of clothing for women that no man can handle.” Finally, Gaultier puts all opponents of the men’s skirt who feel that this is affecting masculinity back in their place with the statement: “Virility has nothing to do with clothing. It is not something you can wear; it is something you have to prove. A man does not show his masculinity though clothes. It is in his head.”  

Does Gaultier actually think that fashion boundaries still need to be pushed? “I think so. But not so much in a forced or scandalous way, it must have a clear reason. I think that fashion should reflect the times. It must be about what is going on at that moment in, say, society and architecture, as well as the prevailing spirit of the times. Garments must try to display that. But in the end, clothing must make people dream; please the person’s desire.”

Le Final

For his final couture show Gaultier was inspired by his own fashion archives. In this way he wanted to pay tribute to themes that he has studied extensively over the past fifty years, such as punk, corsets, marine stripes, androgynous and typical French elements. “All my designs come from something that has been around for a long time. By tinkering and working on it, I change them in one way or another. I like to look at things from an unusual angle and to question the predictable.”

About fifty pieces from this latest couture collection have been completely redesigned, while the rest has been created from previous collections as Gaultier is a strong advocate of recycling. He has called his latest collection “the first recycled haute couture collection.” He has previously criticized large fashion chains.

“With their ridiculous fashion wastage, big fashion chains are damaging the planet. They simply produce far too many collections and clothing. In my very first show, and in this very last show, there are creations made from jeans that I have worn myself. Surely one of the most beautiful materials in existence. Just as is true for people; it gets even more beautiful as it gets older. I therefore urge the public to recycle their clothing.”

From the start of his career, Gaultier has been an avid advocate of recycling materials. “Recycling is something that inspires me enormously. At the start of my career I went to flea markets a lot. There, I bought many things that threw up many ideas. That’s how I did my first show in 1976. Everything in my last show now comes from something else.”

Now the question remains as to whether it has really all ended for Gaultier? “Couture will always exist; it is certainly not dead. That was not my message either. The ‘funeral’ was fun and executed in a new creative way. It was a pleasure to turn it into a party. I felt happy but at the same time emotional. For this last show, many former models showed up with whom I have worked together in the past. And through this reunion, many old memories came back to the surface. At the same time, we also made a new show, a new creation. I can’t stop making clothes, so I’ll naturally do other things.”

Gaultier recently announced that he would invite a guest designer for every new haute couture collection, who would reinterpret the codes and signature style of his Gaultier label in his or her own way. Gaultier will give that guest designer carte blanche.



Nov 2015        lengte: 8 min.


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