Fashion Icons: Jean Paul Gaultier

The man, the myth, the fashion legend: Jean Paul Gaultier.

For those of you who don’t know, Jean Paul Gaultier is a iconic and memorable figure in fashion past and present. He’s most known for his own fashion designs as well as being behind the costumes for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour.

Personally, I love finding out the history and stories of fashion legends such as Jean Paul Gaultier. I think you can only truly appreciate someone or something when you find out how it came to be.

In Gaultier’s case, he came to be on April 24th, 1952 in Bagneux, France. He was the only child of a bookkeeper and cashier. Growing up, he was a very creative and unique child. When he was little, he was fascinated with his grandmother’s corset; which later helped him come up with the concept of Madonna’s corset she would later wear. He also had a bear named Nana that was a model for his work, he even spent hours creating a little brazier for Nana.

Jean Paul Gaultier, Paris 1957
Nana on display at the Brooklyn Museum’s major installation.

His first “muse” was a Algerian girl in his class. She was milk pale and had curly red hair. He was so desperate to be her friend that he lied and said he was Algerian too. “So thin was her skin” He later went on to say about her on “that you could see her small blue veins.”

However, he would later reveal to i-D in 2016 that his childhood had rough points. He was called “la fillie” in school — for my doulingo dropouts that means girl in french. At one point, he was making a sketch of a girl with fishnets and feathers and a teacher punished him for it. Luckily for him, a lot of the boys thought it was cool and asked him to make more sketches.

A couple of years later,he started sending his sketches to a couple of Parisian designers. He would have been roughly 17 at this point. Through those sketches he landed a job with Pierre Cardin on his 18th birthday. But, his time working for Pierre Cardin was short and he later moved onto Jacques Esterel, which he says is where he really started to grasp his signature style. After that, he moved onto the couture house Patou.

In 1974, he went back to Cardin and went to represent the brand in Manila.

“When I started my career, I went to work with Pierre Cardin. At that time, of course, I didn’t have my line or whatever, so I didn’t have my style at all. I was doing Cardin. So I was sketching, imaging what he would love,” Gaultier Cardin later went on to tell Vogue in 2004. “And Afterwards, when i was at Patou, Michel Goma was the designer so I was the spirit of Michel Goma. I quite loved that.”

In 1976, his first individual collection was released. He opened his own business and established his brand with his partner Francis Menuge. He later received financial backing from a Japanese clothing called Kashiyama to help establish his design house, in 1982.

A young Jean Paul Gaultier

His clothes started to be called “l’enfant terrible” because he was constantly challenging the standards views of fashion. His clothes also questioned gender notions by having women in suits and men in skirts.

“People reacted much better to me in the UK, which was where it was all happening,” He said to The Telegraph in 2010. “Jean Muir was big at the time here and she was fabulous, as was Zandra Rhodes. You can see the craziness in the British people, but I couldn’t move because I’d already started in Paris.”

1979, 1984, 1987, and 1989

Gaultier’s habit of using “unconventional models” for his exhibition like older men, full figured woman, and heavily pierced or tattooed models gave him large amounts of criticism and popularity.

Unfortunately, in 1990 Gaultier’s boyfriend Francis Menuge died. But, in the same year, he ended up creating one of his most iconic looks for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour. The costumes are now considered one of the most iconic designs in history.

Madonna on her Blonde Ambition Tour, 1990s

He told The Telegraph in 2010, “I was a fan of Madonna’s so I was pleased to collaborate with her for that reason — not because it would be good for my career.” He later went onto design the costumes for Madonna’s 2006 Confessions Tour.

In 1993, he launched his signature scent in a glass bottle that is shaped similarly to a corset. He also started to co-host the Channel 4 program Eurotrash with Antoine de Caunes until 1997.

Around 1997, he launched his first couture line. He also succeeded Martin Margiela as the head designer at Hermès in 2003, which lasted until 2011.

As of recently, he designed the costumes for Kylie Minogue’s international KYLIEX2008 tour in 2008. He launched a international exhibition named “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” in 2011, it was a look at his long and impressive work. It featured more than a hundred pieces, which were mostly modeled by mannequins that had faces created from video projection.

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