Jean Paul Gaultier
Endeavoring to tear down gender stereotypes and sartorial norms on the catwalk, making underwear outerwear, putting men in skirts and models of all shapes and sizes on the runway, the wildly provocative French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier has created transformational clothing designs that draw on numerous influences and boldly merge haute couture with street sensibility.
An only child raised in the suburbs of Paris, Gaultier didn’t have a formal fashion education. But he loved to sketch and was drawn to clothing, citing the corsets in his maternal grandmother’s closet as having a formative impact on his creative direction. He’s said that some of his earliest fashion work was for his teddy bear, and later he would send his sketches to designers he revered, including Pierre Cardin.
Gaultier began his career in 1970 as an assistant to Cardin, who admired the sketches the 18-year-old had sent for his appraisal. After Gaultier had his first runway show in 1976, featuring unconventional statements like pairing motorcycle jackets with ballerina skirts, it didn’t take long for his star to rise. His playful but exquisitely crafted reimaginings of classic Parisian styles — the striped mariner shirt, the trench coat — soon became recurring themes of Gaultier’s eponymous house, which he founded with his life partner and business associate Francis Menuge in 1982. “He was absolutely peerless for the longest time in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” fashion editor Tim Blanks told the New York Times. This was the period of Gaultier’s most iconic designs.
In 1984, Gaultier’s “Boy Toy” collection challenged men’s fashion with striped shirts and skirts — and sold around 3,000 of them. He was hailed for spectacle-laden runway shows and superb tailoring. Gaultier began to work with Madonna during the late 1980s, and, at the pop star’s request, he designed the costumes for her 1990 “Blond Ambition” tour. Her pink corset became a cultural touchstone of the era.
Gaultier continued to expand his brand, debuting his first couture collection in 1997 and creating costumes for film and stage. He was nominated for a César Award for Best Costume Design for The City of Lost Children (1995) and then a second for Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997).
From 2003 to 2010, Gaultier was the creative director for Hermès. The first international exhibition of his work, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” debuted in 2011 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and toured to cities including Stockholm, New York City, Dallas and London. He presented his last ready-to-wear collection in 2014 and in 2020 stepped down from his couture line, ending his boundary-pushing, industry-shaping reign with a raucous show of more than 230 outfits formed from fragments of collections from across his 50-year career.
One of fashion’s enfants terribles, Gaultier has never sought out pretty for pretty’s sake. Instead, he has challenged the traditional ideals of beauty. Today, the designer's vintage clothing designs — experimental undergarments cut from lace and suede, leather-trimmed evening dresses and jackets of denim, plastic or striped jersey — are as punk as they are high fashion.
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