Jean Paul Gaultier, the provocateur out of the social standard

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Getty

The Enfant Terrible that dismantles conventions in French fashion turns 50 on the catwalks.

Jean Paul Gaultier is and will always be the eternal young rebel who dismantled the classic idea of French good taste. His creations are a symbol of the mixture of references, of everything until that moment the society had identified as opposed, as contrary, and of course, as anti-fashion. He puts the luxury and the marginal in the same mixer and beats it, having as a result an exclusive style and rules under his name.

He is renamed as Enfant Terrible for being always out of the frame and not having hesitation when mixing tulle with leather, using the lingerie as outerwear, or dressing men in skirts and corsets. The designer of the Arcueil neighborhood, on the outskirts of Paris, began working at the age of 18 years with Pierre Cardin, and when he was 22 he launched his own creation. In 1976 he presented her first women’s collection. In this decade, widely criticized, he will grow under his own self-learning to become an icon of provocation in the 80s. The subsequent opening of his Haute Couture house in 1997 will let him gain a notable and greater recognition.

“The object man” is one of his great projects that define him. This is his first collection for men that launches under the pretext of completely skipping any convention of previously created genre, and shouts to the four winds that the skirt also has a place in the men’s wardrobe. He does a great job with the figure of man, humanizing it and dissociating it from the eternal idea of a masculine male.

One of the cases that marks most this idea is his emblematic Le Male perfume. This fragrance in the shape of an armless torso in sailor’s clothing, mixes fresh aromas such as lavender and mint, and vanilla to get that sweet touch not typical of man. With it, he drops the idea that the virile and the sensible are not exclusive characteristics in themselves.

As a consequence of the strong character that defines his own thinking based on principles and not on social conventions, Jean Paul Gaultier announced his withdrawal from ready-to-wear in 2014, after presenting his Spring-Summer 2015 collection. The reasons that move him to work only in haute couture are several and all argued under the logical thread of his judgment. Jean Paul Gaultier speaks on more than one occasion of the conflict with industry and mass creation, of the damage that it causes to the sector which is dying under overproduction and overdose. “Do little and well,” says the designer himself, this is what distinguishes brands and consumers.

Jean Paul Gaultier is a person who quickly tires of the rules of the game, and therefore tries to reinvent and rebuild them in the way that best represents him. In this point, he comes across a problem that he explains openly in some of his interviews. He talks about how difficult is to reinvent himself when to do so he must take himself as a reference; to himself and to the decades that have previously defined him. Because this is not appreciated by critics, or at least not so much as if it were another designer who was inspired by Jean Paul Gaultier himself.

Although men’s collections and the idea of breaking with gender conventions have caused great success, the designer ends up focusing again on the female creation. With changing industry and consumer demand, clothing for man becomes more and more difficult to understand. It is the denial to the adaptation of the commercial, one of the reasons that make him decide to leave forever and irrevocably the ready-to-wear fashion.

After 50 years of professional career, and coinciding with his anniversary, Jean Paul Gaultier announces his decision to permanently move himself away from the catwalks of haute couture. He says goodbye in his best possible way. With a show lasting over an hour at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris presenting the Spring-Summer 2020 collection. A goodbye where nothing could be missing, where innovation has been seen returning to the origins. Marine aesthetics, the satin corsets, the most provocative transparencies, impossible volumes, and the most extravagant headdresses. Models of all ages as it is typical of the designer and very special guests like the Almodóvar’s girl, Rossy de Palma, or the burlesque actress, Dita Von Teese, both Gaultier’s friends.

As it has already happened on other occasions and collaborations, there has been room for Spanish culture with short jackets inspired by the costumes of lights and a bullfighter walking the catwalk on ballet points. The designer had already worked with Almodóvar with the costumes of his movie “Kika”, and he remembers the film director under the labels of “life, enthusiasm, drama and tragedy”.

In a self-referential parade some of the marks that the designer leaves to throughout history could not be missing. From the mentioned marine aesthetic, to the iconic and unforgettable tapered bra that Gaultier designed for Madonna and that we saw on her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990. He already began to use this garment in its collections in the 80s, referring to the Hollywood costumes from the 40s, and since the tour it becomes a symbol of the transgressor and the provocative.

Jean Paul Gaultier has given great lessons which are collected today in the history of fashion and they will last for decades. To conclude and in summary to its creation there is a declaration that explains very well the sense of the brand, given by the same designer, and it is based on the fact that if we know how to look “there is beauty everywhere”.

This is not a final goodbye, but a see you soon, until this Terrible Enfant full of sense of humor surprises us with his new projects. As Gaultier would say “goodbye to what is new, hello to the old”.


Selection of images by Naive from the Jean-Paul Gaultier’s fashion show.

More Stories
Kid Cudi: Leader of his own struggle