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Gaultier grew up in a suburb of Paris. His mother was a clerk and his father an accountant. It was his maternal grandmother, Marie Garrabe, who introduced him to the world of fashion. He never received formal training as a designer. Instead, he started sending sketches to famous couture stylists at an early age. Pierre Cardin was impressed by his talent and hired him as an assistant in 1970. Afterwards he worked with Jacques Esterel in 1971 and Jean Patou later that year, then returning to manage the Pierre Cardin boutique in Manila for a year in 1974.
His first individual collection was released in 1976, and his characteristic irreverent style dating from 1981 has led to his being known as the enfant terrible of French fashion. Many of Gaultier’s following collections have been based on street wear, focusing on popular culture, whereas others, particularly his haute couture collections, are very formal yet at the same time unusual and playful.
Although most people found his designs decadent at the time, fashion editors, notably Melka Tréanton of Elle, Claude Brouet and Catherine Lardeur of French Marie Claire, were impressed by his creativity and mastery of tailoring and later launched his career. In 1985 he introduced man-skirts and promoted their use, especially kilts, in men’s wardrobe, and the release of designer collections. Gaultier has also worked in close collaboration with Wolford Hosiery.
Gaultier caused shock by using unconventional models for his exhibitions, like older men and full-figured women, pierced and heavily tattooed models, and by playing with traditional gender roles in the shows. This earned him both criticism and enormous popularity.
At the end of the 1980s, Gaultier suffered some personal losses, including his lover and business partner Francis Menuge, who died of AIDS-related causes.
In 1988 Gaultier released a dance single titled “How To Do That” on Fontana records from which came one of the first ever “single title” remix albums “Aow Tou Dou Zat” on Mercury records. The album includes mixes by Norman Cook, J. J. Jeczalik, George Shilling, Mark Saunders, Latin Rascals, David Dorrell, Tim Atkins, Carl Atkins, and Kurtis Mantronik. Co-written & produced by Tony Mansfield, video directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. The album also featured a collaboration with accordion player Yvette Horner.
Starting in 1993, he co-hosted the Channel 4’s program Eurotrash together with Antoine de Caunes. Gaultier hosted the show until 1997. Gaultier was the creative director of Hermès from 2003 to 2010, where he succeeded Martin Margiela.
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He is also well known for sponsoring the 2003–04 exhibit in the Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Braveheart: Men in Skirts,” which showed designs by Dries van Noten, Vivienne Westwood, and Rudi Gernreich in addition to Gaultier’s in order to “examine[s] designers and individuals who have appropriated the skirt as a means of injecting novelty into male fashion, as a means of transgressing moral and social codes, and as a means of redefining an ideal masculinity.”
In 2011, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Maison Jean Paul Gaultier organized a retrospective exhibit, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.” That exhibit is on tour with venues at the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design (Arkitektur- och designcentrum, ArkDes) in Stockholm, the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, the Barbican Centre in London, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and the Grand Palais in Paris. The exhibition in Paris, which took place from April to August 2015, was the subject of a documentary called Jean Paul Gaultier at the Grand Palais aired exclusively on Eurochannel.
In 2012, he was named as a member of the Jury for the Main Competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time a fashion designer was called to sit on a jury at the festival. He also designed the dress that Anggun wore as she represented France during the grand-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 held in Baku, Azerbaijan. That year, he also participated in the Cali ExpoShow in Cali (Colombia), showing his extense collection of perfumes and all classic clothes.
Up until 2014, he designed for three collections: his own couture and ready-to-wear lines, for both men and women. At the spring/summer 2015 show he announced that he was closing the ready-to-wear labels to focus on haute couture.
Corset with cone bra from the exhibition at the ArtDes, 2013
Gaultier produced sculptured costumes for Madonna during the nineties, starting with her infamous cone bra for her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, and designed the wardrobe for her 2006 Confessions Tour.
Gaultier has designed a number of the costumes and outfits worn by rocker Marilyn Manson including the outfits for Manson’s The Golden Age of Grotesque album. In France, the costumes he designed for singer Mylène Farmer gained much attention. In spring 2008 he signed a contract to be again the fashion designer for her tour in 2009.
In 2008, he designed the white and silver mermaid dress that Marion Cotillard wore at the 80th Academy Awards, when she won the Oscar for her performance in La Vie en Rose.
He has designed the costumes for Kylie Minogue’s international KylieX2008 tour, as well as the iconic Hong Kong singer Leslie Cheung, who hired Gaultier to design eight different costumes for his last concert tour in 2000.
Collections and Labels
Labels Labels include Jean Paul Gaultier, Gaultier PARIS – couture collection – and former JEAN’S Paul Gaultier, Eyewear Jean Paul Gaultier and Jean Paul Gaultier Argent. Besides his ready-to-wear collection, in 1988 Gaultier expanded his brand to include the label Junior Gaultier, a lower-priced line designed for the youth market with a heavy nautical influence that he began to carry throughout all of his collections.
In 1988, a Junior Gaultier outfit was selected by Jeff Banks as the Dress of the Year. The Junior Gaultier label was replaced in 1994 with JPG by Gaultier, a unisex collection that followed the designer’s idea of fluidity of the sexes. Gaultier Jean’s, a similar line consisting mainly of denim and more simply styled garments with a heavy street influence, followed in 1992, which was then replaced with Jean’s Paul Gaultier from 2004 to 2008. Junior Gaultier’s name was reused in 2009 for the launching of the child’s wear, to be completed with a Baby Line in 2011.
What brought Gaultier immense success was the advent of his haute couture line in 1997. Through this collection, he was able to freely express the scope and range of his aesthetic, drawing inspiration from radically divergent cultures, from Imperial India to Hasidic Judaism. As a result of this success, Hermès hired Gaultier as creative director from 2003 to 2010. Hermès took a 30% stake in Jean Paul Gaultier in 2003 and later increased their stake to 45%.
Gaultier’s Spring 2009 couture was influenced by the visual style of singer Klaus Nomi and he used Nomi’s recording of Cold Song in his runway show.
Jean Paul Gaultier licenses a line of perfumes in collaboration with Puig company. The first fragrance, Classique, a women’s floral-oriental, was introduced in 1993, followed by Le Mâle for men two years later. Both were highly successful, and in 2012, Le Mâle was the number-one men’s fragrance in the European Union based on sales; it also held a strong market position in Australia and the United States.
The third fragrance, the women’s fragrance Fragile, was introduced in 2000; however, it is now in limited distribution due to poor sales. In 2005, the unisex “fragrance for humanity” Gaultier² (pronounced Gaultier to the power of two) was launched (except in Canada, where it was launched in January 2006, and the United States, where it was launched in August 2006). More recently, a men’s fragrance, Fleur du Mâle was launched in April 2007. Shortly thereafter, the Eau de Cologne Fleur du Mâle was released demonstrating a lighter version of the Fleur du Mâle. An addition to the Gaultier family of fragrances is the ladies fragrance Ma Dame.
In 6 July 2011, the new men’s fragrance, Kokorico, has been launched at the La Gaîté Lyrique, just after the Haute couture F/w 2011–2012 fashion show.
From the early 1990s to 2015, all Jean Paul Gaultier perfumes were produced under a long-term license by Paris-based Beauté Prestige International.