Jean-Paul Gaultier and Rossy de Palmainstagram/gaultier_forever

Jean-Paul Gaultier, fashion’s finest creative chameleon, announced his retirement from the world of ‘haute couture’ this year. Going out with a bang, he celebrated the end of an era with an exuberant grande finale, a parade of the many eclectic phases of his design career.   

Having grown up in the Parisian suburbs, Gaultier never had formal training as a designer. Instead, at an early age, he began to send sketches to famous couturiers in the hope of landing a job. Pierre Cardin was impressed by his talent and hired him as an assistant in 1970.

After this lease into the world of couture, he worked through a series of jobs at various ateliers and couturiers, before finally premiering his first eponymous collection in 1976. From his debut, Gaultier irreverent attitude had earned himself the reputation of fashion’s ‘enfant terrible’; rule-breaker, and risk-taker. With a vision to blend street-wear and high fashion, Gaultier has long since provided unapologetic shock factor, and honoured his desire to always present an ‘element of surprise.’

 “Gaultier has done unisex couture, which is probably the newest take on the old métier yet” Vogue

In his debut couture collection in Spring 1997, Gaultier pushed the limits of haute couture itself, by reworking humble materials like denim, camouflage and mesh. It was in part his shoestring budget which prompted him to repurpose these materials and to elevate them with the meticulous craftsmanship of his couture atelier. Even blending details typical of ready-to-wear, including visible garment tags and logos, Gaultier was a wild card among his couture contemporaries: a long leap from the ‘dressed up aesthetic’ of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen’s debut couture collections for Christian Dior and Givenchy respectively. 

His debut SS97 couture show features slick tailoring, but on both male and female models. Gaultier gives his own edge to traditions of female silhouettes and masculine cuts; yes, there is skin on show, but we glimpse it through black mesh, or between pinstripe suit lapels. The models all exude Gaultier’s attitude; garish makeup elongates their eyes up to the eyebrows, lips an unapologetic red, whilst the men walked with a slick of eyeliner.

Gaultier took pride in his display of a myriad of beauty on his catwalk; including older men and women, fuller-figured models, pierced and heavily tattooed models - a move which consequently earned him both popularity and polemic. In his open casting, Gaultier sought a certain ‘allure’ and ‘attitude’ in his models. In showing differences, he wanted to display the ‘multiple definitions of beauty.

In an interview, Gaultier questions “Why not Couture for men?” Seizing this concept, Gaultier proceeded to establish the jupe pour homes,” or ‘man-skirt,’ as a household classic, presented as part of his “Et Dieu créa l’Homme’ collection. An illusion created by adding a panel to wide-legged trousers created the impression of a skirt. He wanted to push the hyper-sexuality of his male models, breaking design and gender binaries. It’s couture, reworked.

Gaultier has challenged the gendered perceptions of haute couture, bringing the "jupe pour homes" into western fashion.instagram/gaultier_forever

 But Gaultier does not deny couture its desire for elegance; a translucent white dress of tulle with a matching black shawl and a pink-dragon-embroidered corset dress with a draped skirt both made the pages of Vogue. And yet, in a typical twist of tradition, Gaultier closed his show with a new conception of the wedding dress, featuring a mesh corset bodice which extended into the veil and over the models face. It is in this particularity that Gaultier finds his niche: the ability to rework tradition, respecting tailoring and the artistry of the atelier, yet bringing an abounding playfulness to his designs.

On January 17th 2020, Gaultier announced that he would be retiring from the runway after his 50th-anniversary haute couture show which took place on January 22nd 2020 during Paris Fashion week. Embracing the true spectacle of fashion, Gaultier staged his grande finale in Paris’s storied Théâtre du Châtelet.

Karlie Kloss in “Neo Couture” for Gaultier Paris S/S 2012instagram/gaultier_forever

Through the phases and transitions of this extensive show, Gaultier exhibits the many faces of his design career: moving through leitmotifs including corsetry, the blue and white striped ‘marinière,’ and reworked textiles.

Gigi Hadid, fashion’s young blood, took up the ‘marinière’ heritage in a reworked masterpiece of blue and white striped organza and matelot pants. Alongside young faces, Gaultier re-called his original catwalk icons to walk in the finale, including Anna Pawlowski, who modelled in his very first shows, Yasmin Le Bon, and Erin O’Connor.


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Gaultier’s creative prowess knows no limits, and rightly so; his work is multifunctional and multidisciplinary. Childhood passions for cinema and music have carried over to his career, and he has since designed the wardrobe for a range of film, cinema, and theatre. You might recall Madonna’s conical corset on her 1990 Blonde Ambitions World tour, and Rossy de Palma in Almodovar’s Kika.   

In fact, perhaps this cross-diversification of fashion art and music is what the future holds for the designer: he inaugurated his very own cabaret, FASHIONFREAKSHOW in 2018 at Paris’ Folies Bergères. It seems that Gaultier’s relentless appetite for creativity has surpassed the realm of haute couture, and into undiscovered artistic territory. With this show, he invites us “escape to the delightfully crazy world of Jean Paul Gaultier,” with a collective of artists, dancers and musicians in one wonderful production.

‘Jean Paul Gaultier, ça veut dire la liberté” Model, Grande Finale, 2020instagram/gaultier_forever

After his grande finale, Gaultier runs up the catwalk sending kisses to the audience. Wearing a classic Breton under a boilersuit, he exudes a certain euphoria; celebrating what has been, but more importantly, what is yet to come.

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