Last week I went to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris. I’ve always appreciated Gaultier’s famous ‘enfant terrible of fashion’ style; there is no other designer who bends and breaks the rules in quite the same way he does (more on that later). What I had not appreciated is just how prolific he is, and how long he has been in fashion. He started working for other designers in the 1970s, despite having no formal training, and has been designing for his own label for nearly 40 years. He has created stage costumes for Madonna (including the infamous cone bra), Beyonce, and Kylie Minogue. He designed the wardrobes for many films, including Luc Besson’s film The Fifth Element (memorably Mila Jovovich’s bandage outfit), and even sat on the Cannes film festival jury in 2012. Still, the creativity of designing his Couture collection has always been his first love, and he announced in September this year that he’ll be dropping the Ready To Wear lines for men and women to focus purely on Couture. He seemed to figure out very early in his career that celebrity ‘partnerships’ are the best form of promotion, so I have no doubt he’ll continue designing amazing things for Nicole Kidman, Rihanna, Marion Cotillard, etc.
What makes Gaultier so relevant (if not crucial) is that he revolutionised and broadened fashion’s fairly narrow definition of beauty. In the 1980’s, you’ll remember catwalks, magazine editorial, and fashion/beauty advertising were ruled by the Supermodels: Cindy, Naomi, Linda, Christy, Claudia, and a small handful of others. Going completely against their conventional beauty, Gaultier hosted open casting calls for his fashion shows. He welcomed men and women, androgynous, transgender, pierced, tattooed, old (gasp!), and plus-size on his catwalk alongside the usual agency models and celebrities. His designs were intended to be worn by everyone, regardless of size, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, or gender. He celebrates and embraces difference and unconventional beauty; fashion for him is inclusive, not exclusive. You may or may not love his designs, but he is absolutely necessary to the conversation of fashion and style. Yes, he is theatrical. Yes, he loves to shock. But he is creating art and costume like very few other designers are. Even Andy Warhol said of Gaultier “I think the way people dress today is a form of artistic expression… Art lies in the way the whole outfit is put together. Take Jean Paul Gaultier, what he does is really art.”
Now I’ll stop stop waxing lyrically about the genius of Jean Paul (I feel we’re now on a first name basis after this exhibit, quite honestly) and show you a few of my favourite pieces (which were hard to capture, so excuse the imperfect photography).
with a surreal, racy can-can leg print inside.
What are your thoughts on Jean Paul? Enfant Terrible, or just plain Terrible?!