ICONICA: Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier: master of keeping fashion weird and pushing the envelope of style and sexuality.   This  famous french designer  has waved the “enfant terrible” flag in French fashion for over 30 years,  transforming musicians into style icons with his infamous cone bras, putting men in skirts, and pushing gender maxims to adventurous new levels.

When homogenous fads and celebs on the red carpet threaten to make us all look the same,  JPG is always there in the background, eyes twinkling like a pixie, reminding us all to throw on a corset every once in a while.



He recently created an Amy Winehouse tribute collection, and previously brought lingerie dressing, nautical looks, and androgyny into popular culture.  He established his couture house while dressing Marilyn Manson, proving his finger is kept firmly on the pulse of counter-culture. His designs are the stuff of pure legend.


Attention to hand-crafting and singular details, gender-and culture-crossing designs, and redefining the traditionally elegant trappings of Paris fashion have kept him at the top of the game for over three decades. His clothes make constant historic and literary references, with an eclectic range of influences from S &M costuming, theatre, punk, dance, and even pirate couture via the flea market.


Famous for his avant-garde designs, Gaultier never received formal training as a designer, instead sending sketches to famous couture stylists at an early age.  He started out as an apprentice to haute couture legends Pierre Cardin and later Jean Patou.

 Although Gaultier rebels against the old school of Parisian couture, his years of training under Cardin, Esterel and Patou have shaped him into a master craftsman, always founding his collections in technical brilliance-based inventive tailoring. This has meant that he has been able to convince even fashion’s most elite because of his master techniques, however avant-garde his collections may seem.


Jean Paul Gaultier takes Mexican inspiration to a different level, Spring/summer 2010 haute couture


It was while at Jean Patou he recognized how most couturiers ignored the female form at the expense of the construction of a particular line.  On one particular occasion he was shocked to witness a model having to wear heavy bandages to suppress her breasts in order for the dress she was modelling to hang properly, a catalytic moment which propelled the designer to design a controversial series of negotiations of the corset.

Jean-Paul Gaultier, spring/summer 2001 haute couture collection: satin bustier. © AFP/CORBIS.


In the 1980s he redefined this usually private, hidden garment, stemming from his interest in the exaggerated definition of the female form it produced, and recreated it as outerwear itself.  His 1982 design the Corset Dress was an astute commentary on femininity, alluding to the conically stitched bras of the 1950s sweater girl, whilst at the same time reconstructing the female physique as an object of power.


When Gaultier designed the costumes for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, including corsets and the famous cone bra, his designs reached critical mass; and an iconic image of the woman as a weapon was born.


In one move JPG had managed to change oft-held perceptions of women being soft, malleable objects of passive attraction. Madonna’s taut physique and chiselled guns, all wrapped up in a JPG corset, were screaming out to us that we were a lot more than that.

Jean-Paul Gaultier


He has continued to seduce and titillate with gender-bending collections and over the top shows, challenging orthodox notions of the presentation of gender through both male and female dress. During one notorious catwalk show, female models smoked pipes and men paraded in transparent lace skirts. His kitschy designs through this period gave Gaultier a reputation as the ‘enfant terrible’ of fashion, yet many of his collections at this time received critical acclaim, wowing critics by being innovative yet wearable and elegant.



“The shock of the way I mix patterns and fabrics can be disconcerting,” the designer told Vogue way back in 1984, “but what I am trying to do is provoke new ideas about how pieces can be put together in different ways. I think this is a more modern way to wear clothes that in themselves are fairly classic.”


In 1990 the death of his lover and business partner to AIDS was attributed to Gaultier taking a more sombre and simple road with his designs for a time, with less aggression and toughness. Collections at the time were influenced by the dress of Mongolia, the punk subculture of London, Eskimo culture, and even the 1970s television series The Love Boat, among others. Soon this grew tiresome for the designer and after deciding his designs were becoming too classic, and he went back to making the sexy, irreverent clothing he had been known for.


Gaultier’s profile has been raised by his work as a costume designer for films such as Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997). He has also created a line of furniture which included a two-person chair on wheels and a dresser constructed from luggage.


Milla Jovovich as Leeloo wears a design by Jean Paul Gaultier

Milla Jovovich as Leeloo wears a design by Jean Paul Gaultier


He opened his own couture house in 1997, becoming just the second designer in three decades to create couture under his own label.  Since launching Gaultier Paris, his made-to-order collection, the inspired Gaul has proven himself more than deserving of the title of grand couturier, with some of his most creative and praised collections occurring since that time.

Angel, Photograph by Richard Avedon, Jean Paul Gaultier 2000


Becoming a magnet for many leading actresses and celebrities of our day,  he has earned a reputation for combining outrageous features with high-quality tailoring and detailing. Gaultier has since continued to expand his retail operation, expanding into new categories in the early 2000’s such as fragrance, timepieces and footwear, and boosting his international business.


Les Hussardes [Hussars] collection, Incognito ensemble. Haute couture fall/winter 2002-2003 
Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture 1999 by Paolo Roversi


The designer with a vivid public persona and sense of fun has proven himself as a formidable marketing force, an invaluable part of the brand.



The cheeky, cheerful and irreverent pixie in the Breton stripes, with a love for theatricality, has constantly turned the spotlight on to his iconoclastic and exhibitionist creations; pieces that speak to us and redefine notions of taste, gender and elegance in dress.

Jean Paul Gaultier


Surreal but never completely bizarre, he has produced seductive, playful, witty clothes which remain definitive pieces of our time.  Rebelliously wearable, he has managed to inject kitsch into couture, glamourising street style and cleaning it up for haute couture.



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