Jean Paul Gaultier has garnered a reputation as the ‘enfant terrible’ of the couture world.
With his peroxide Tintin quiff (admittedly now a little greying) and his daring avant-garde take on fashion. Mixing in a glamorous world where fashion meets entertainment and art, Gaultier has designed clothes for Madonna (most famously the iconic conical breasted outfits of her 1990 Blond Ambition tour), Kylie and French crooner and national treasure Johnny Hallyday, while Oscar winner Marion Cotillard patriotically wore a Gaultier gown as she collected her Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Edith Piaf. In 1993, Gaultier extended his popularity further with the launch of his first perfume, Classique, sold in a distinctive and suitably flamboyant perfume bottle that celebrates the female form.
From the start, it was the young Jean Paul Gaultier’s passion and precocious talent that got him noticed. Despite never receiving any formal fashion training, the enterprising young Gaultier sent a selection of his fashion sketches to famous French couture stylists, including designer Pierre Cardin who hired the 18-year-old Jean Paul as an assistant in 1970. From there, Gaultier moved to Jean Patou, the famous designer and creator of Joy perfume, and launched his first individual collection in 1976.
Even among the fashion elite, Gaultier signature style stands out among the crowd: playful, extrovert and often controversial, he is happy to use unconventional models (curvy girls and older males), and loves to challenge gender stereotypes by sending his male models down the catwalk in kilts and skirts. Gaultier’s women’s and men’s collections also demonstrate his immense technical skill and sophistication; his latest couture catwalk shows combined monochrome silhouettes in strong geometric styles with a mix of sculptured tailoring and softer, more fluid lines.
Gaultier’s ready-to-wear collections, meanwhile, have often been inspired by streetwear and popular culture – another of his passions, which he indulged in the early Nineties when he co-presented Channel Four’s Eurotrash. Gaultier is also renowned for strong nautical looks which, as he confesses in our exclusive interview (below), hark back to his childhood when his grandmother dressed him in a little sailor outfit – an eternal theme which has filtered through to Gaultier’s fashion collection for boys and girls.
What are your earliest fashion memories?
Maybe it’s not the earliest, but it is a very important memory because that is the moment when I realised that fashion could be my vocation. I was almost ten tears old, it was the beginning of the Sixties and I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who had a television and would let me watch anything I liked. One evening I saw a program on Les Folies Bergère and the next morning in school, instead of listening to my teacher, I spent my time drawing the dancers in fishnets and with big feathers. My teacher caught me, of course, and to punish me he forced me to make a round of all the classes with the drawings pinned to my back. But the punishment was completely counterproductive as it was actually the first time I got accepted in school as the children loved my drawings. I was not good at sports. I didn’t play football, but I could draw and that was how I was accepted.
At what age did you first notice fashion around you?
I was very young – I must have been eight or nine years old. I would give fashion advice to my mother and to all my grandmother’s friends. A little bit later, I would design my collections, drawing 40 or 50 looks, but not only that, I would also write the reviews of the shows that I imagined presenting, like the reviews that I had read in the few fashion magazines that I had access to.
What sort of clothes did you enjoy wearing as a child?
I was born in 1952 and was dressed like all the children at the time – short pants, shirts… My grandmother used to dress me in a sailor T-shirt. That nautical look is something that stayed with me for a long time. Of all those around me, it was my grandmother who was definitely my fashion inspiration.
What inspired you to design Junior Gaultier?
Well, it seems like I’ve finally found a mother for my ‘enfant terrible’. I must say that I had been thinking about it for a while and finally everything got together and the first collection was made in 2010.
Does the children’s collection take inspiration from the adult lines?
Of course, all the Jean Paul Gaultier codes are there: the trench coats, the tartan, the tailored suits, the sailor T-shirts.
Do you think skirts for boys will catch on?
Of course, I had them in my show. Men are more in touch with their feminine side, boys too.
Madonna has famously worn many of your outfits. Have you made clothes for her children?
Your first collection was for two to 16 years. Will there be a baby range? Or a perfume?
It is a bit early to say, but I hope that my children’s line will be very successful and that it will develop.
Do you think that children in Paris dress differently to children in the UK?
The style is not a matter of place, the style is a matter of child.
Are you a godfather to any children?
Yes, to the children of my old friend, Anna. They were in my show and I’m very proud of them. They’re 15 now.
You are often referred to as the ‘enfant terrible’ of French fashion. Would you like to dress ‘tous les enfants terribles du monde’?