After 50 years in the fashion industry, the 67-year-old French designer announced his decision to withdraw from haute couture, after his show in Paris on Wednesday. We take a look back at his career ...
Born in Bagneux in 1952, Jean Paul Gaultier was inspired from an early age by his grandmother’s tales of women’s dresses at the turn of the 20th century, and began to make clothes for his favourite teddy bear, Nana. Fascinated by stories of corsetry, he dressed Nana in a paper conical bra.
Despite no formal fashion training, Gaultier was undeterred and used to send his sketched ideas off to fashion houses. The ploy worked and on his 18th birthday, he was hired as Pierre Cardin’s personal assistant.
Gaultier, who had become a firm fixture on the Parisian nightlife scene, put out his first clothes collection in 1976, drawing on streetwear and club culture, and making use of vintage corsets and plaited straw.
In 1982, he launched his eponymous women’s label, before branching out to menswear two years later. His second men’s collection, titled And God Created Man (in a nod to the Brigitte Bardot film), was the debut of Gaultier’s man-skirt, a kilt and skirt hybrid that was worn on the runway on heavily tattooed men of all shapes and sizes, and which sealed the designer’s reputation as a dazzling nonconformist, earning him the moniker the “enfant terrible” of French fashion. That year also saw him bring his conical bra to the runway for the first time, in the Barbes women’s collection.
A small musical detour in 1989, which saw him release the wonderfully bad single Aow Tou Dou Zat, was followed by Gaultier’s most famous collaboration, when he dressed Madonna in a perfectly tailored cone-bra corset for her 1990 Blond Ambition world tour.
In 1993, Gaultier turned his hand to presenting, when he became the co-host of British television show Eurotrash (until 1997). He also expanded his fashion empire with the release of Classique, a fragrance sold in a corset-clad figurine. For all his punk references, Gaultier has always been a master of cut and technique and, in 1997, his skill was recognised with an invitation to join the haloed ranks of haute couture. That same year, he let his imagination fly by designing costumes for the Luc Besson sci-fi film The Fifth Element.
In 2003, Gaultier was named women’s artistic director for the French luxury house Hermès, a position he held until 2010. Yet, in typical style, he still managed to keep his wild side alive by creating Kylie Minogue’s costumes for her 2008 X Tour.
It wasn’t until 2014 that Gaultier showed signs of slowing down, when he shuttered his ready-to-wear company to focus on couture, citing the former’s punishing schedule. Seemingly unable to stop completely, however, in September 2018 Gaultier opened the Fashion Freak Show stage production at the Folies Bergere in Paris, based on his life. And despite announcing his retirement, true to form, Gaultier has tantalisingly left open a door for his creative return.
‘‘This show celebrating 50 years of my career will also be my last,” he declared in a statement. “But, rest assured, haute couture will continue with a new concept.” With his track record of thinking beyond convention, we cannot wait to see what the future will bring for him.