Life of a lable: Jean Paul Gaultier

2012-07-13 15:15

While his own brand is world famous in its own right, he was also the creative muscle behind luxury brand Hermès.

With his signature Breton tops, peroxided hair and irreverence, Jean Paul Gaultier has become known as fashion’s ‘l’enfant terrible’ because of his gender-bending styles and overtly sexual designs.

His edgy, thought-provoking collections and flair for the theatrical made his catwalk shows both outrageous and the hottest ticket in town.

His signature style is to interpret streetwear in an avant-garde way, putting a French spin on things and raising eyebrows with his cut-out designs, conical bras and corsets.

Openly homosexual, he’s also challenged images of sexuality by sending men down the ramp in skirts, while the women were dressed in masculine attire.

Although Gaultier never formally trained as a fashion designer, it was clear he would make a career out of his burgeoning talent.

In 1970, on his 18th birthday, he began working as a studio assistant for Paris-based designer Pierre Cardin, before moving to Jean Patou.

Eventually, he released his first collection in 1976 with the help of his life partner, Francis Menuge.

Influential fashion editors started to take note of this new talent, helping to launch his career.

He got financial backing from Japanese consortium Kashiyama, that hired him to design a women’s collection.

It was a huge success. In 1983, Gaultier launched his first men’s ready-to-wear collection and in 1985, he opened his first boutique in Paris and ushered in a new era of fashion.

French Vogue reported him placing an ad in Libération newspaper that asked for ‘atypical models, ugly faces welcome’.

While the 80s saw his career go from strength to strength, Gaultier suffered a blow in 1990 when Menuge died of an Aids-related illness. He told the UK’s Guardian newspaper in 2005, ‘I did think, after all, “Why carry on? Maybe it’s best if I stop now.” But it’s the only thing I know how to do.’

Two years later, Gaultier was back with a vengeance when he published his pictorial biography A Nous Deux la Mode and introduced jeans, accessories and perfumes to his business.

Gaultier’s design appeal soared to new heights during pop queen Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour in 1990, when he famously put her in a cone bra. The pop icon was also one of the first people to embrace his underwear as outerwear trend.

His first perfume for women, Classique, was launched in 1993, followed by Le Mâle in 1995, his first fragrance for men.

He also designed the costumes for the 1997 hit film The Fifth Element, the same year he released his first haute couture collection.

As he explained to Interview magazine, ‘I think the moment now for couture is right because it’s a small fantasy. It’s special, and for only one customer at a time.’

While he had a reputation for being fashion’s rebellious wild child, the maverick designer insisted all he’s ever done is look at the conventional in unconventional ways: ‘Like a child, you know? Which is like an innocent eye that makes you see beauty in some places where it’s not expected to be.’

He’s the only designer to have couture collections for both men and women.

‘I have never really cared about what fashion’s ideal was. I am for equality of gender. There’s couture for women, so why not for men,’ he said.

In 1999, French luxury designer label Hermès invested $15 million in Gaultier’s business, which he described as ‘a dream marriage’.

When creative director Martin Margiela left Hermès after six years, the path was paved for Gaultier to take the creative reins of the iconic brand, which he held until 2010.

Today, the master couturier with the edgy appeal continues to provoke and titillate.

» Details

In 2001, Gaultier, below, was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, the highest decoration in France.

In 2003, Nicole Kidman collected her Oscar for Best Actress for The Hours wearing a sheer black haute couture Gaultier gown.

Gaultier has designed costumes for a number of films, including Pedro Almodóvar’s 2004 drama Bad Education.

In 2008, Marion Cotillard, below, received her Oscar for Best Actress for La Vie en Rose wearing a breathtaking hand-embroidered Gaultier mermaid dress.

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