Jean Paul GaultierNovember 16, 2015
At 63, Jean Paul Gaultier is still an Enfant Terrible. The ever-boyish fashion designer still has the looks and sense of humour of a naughty boy, and he has built his reputation on a combination of curiosity, playfulness, subversion and really good tailoring skills.
Up until a few years ago, he might actually have been the fashion designer most recognized by people who don’t care at all about fashion, but who appreciate a big boobie joke. This is because of his long running show Eurotrash, which he presented with Antoine de Caunes from 1993-1997. Essentially late night drunk person’s TV, it revelled in puerile jokes and specialised in coating the vaguely-fascinatingly-ridiculous in a light coating of irony.
It’s so tempting to say that this echoes Gaultier’s catwalk work but actually it doesn’t – while he’s ready to make himself a figure of fun and his art doesn’t take itself too seriously, his art is not aimed at the lowest common denominator.
Jean Paul Gaultier – a truly skilled couturier
In fact, Gaultier’s work comes from a respectable couture grounding. At the age of only 18 he was employed by Pierre Cardin, going on to work for Jean Patou and present his first catwalk show at the age of 24. His craftsmanship is meticulous, and he is able to make stunningly structured gowns and expertly tailored suits, even if he does choose to make them camo-print instead of rose pink or tattoo covered instead of pinstriped.
His most famous designs are his exaggerated underwear as outerwear and his skirts for men, and he has put all sorts of models on his catwalk besides tiny teenage girls – the voluptuous singer Beth Ditto, curvaceous models Crystal Ren and Sophie Dahl, women in their sixties, people who are heavily tattooed, pregnant model Jourdan Dunn, transgender models and surprising celebrities like the singing brothers Jedward – and he’s not laughing at any of them.
Jean Paul Gaultier – a man of contradictions
Gaultier is interested in gender and sexuality and he explores that in two apparently opposing ways.
The first is in embracing the stereo typically ideal female and male form so comprehensively it can only be read as parody (and indeed it is, a little bit parody and a little bit fetish). Back to the underwear as outwear thing – Jean Paul Gaultier dressed Madonna for her 1990 Blond Ambition tour, in which she wore a salmon pink corset with excessively conical breasts and fishnet tights. (In fact, he has made almost exactly the same outfit for Kylie with far less media impact). The colour and the shape imitates undergarments of the 1950s, in a fetishisation of his grandmother’s underclothes. He often speaks of the wonder of being able to rummage through her clothes as a child, and discovering the world of feathers and corsetry.
He also does the same for the masculine form. The male models he uses to advertise his male perfume, named Le Male and described as “A fresh, sexy scent combining virility and sensitivity” are perfectly slender and muscular sailors. The bottles for both perfumes are made in the shape of a corseted female and breton striped male torso respectively. (In the design for his perfume bottles he was influenced by the surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, someone with whom he shares a similar sense of fashion humour).
Subversion of gender
The second way that that he investigates gender is in subverting it. He used a beautiful female presenting male model, Andre Pejic, as well as the male drag performer and winner of the Euro vision song contest Conchita Wurst who dresses in female clothing but with a beard to model his female clothing. He has presented skirts for men refuses to restrict his clothing to just one gender.
Jean Paul Gaultier and Antoine de Caunes presenting Eurotrash
Beth Ditto models for Gaultier.
Crystal Renn models for Jean Paul Gaultier
A pregnant Jourdan Dunn walks for Jean Paul Gaultier in 2009
Jean Paul Gaultier camo print ballgown
Madonna in her JPG outfit.
JPG Perfume ads.
Le Male perfume advert
Conchita Wurst models for JPG.
Conchita Wurst models for Jean Paul Gaultier.
Andre Pejic models for Jean Paul Gaultier
Andre Pejic models for Jean Paul Gaultier in 2012.
Tanel Bedrossiantz models for Jean Paul Gaultier
Several variations of man skirt