Born: Arcueil, France, 24 April 1952. Education: Educated at the école Communale, the College d'Enseignement, and at the Lycée d'Arcueil, to 1969. Career: Design assistant, Pierre Cardin, 1972-74; also worked for Esterel and Patou; designer, Cardin (U.S.) Collection, working in the Philippines, 1974-75; designer, Majago, Paris, 1976-78; founder, Jean Paul Gaultier S.A., from 1978; menswear line introduced, 1984; Junior Gaultier line introduced, 1987; furniture line introduced, 1992; licenses include jewelry, from 1988, perfumes, from 1991, and jeans, from 1992; created controversy with line
á nous deux la mode, Paris 1990.
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By injecting kitsch into couture, Jean-Paul Gaultier has redefined the traditionally elegant trappings of Paris fashion. He is a playful, good-natured iconoclast, glamorizing street style and cleaning it up for haute couture. By turns surreal but never completely bizarre,
Gaultier's eclectic source material, inherited from punk via the fleamarket, and an astute sense of the origins of style mean his clothes make constant historic and literary references, as opposed to the cool modernism of contemporaries such as Issey Miyake, displayed in his use of heraldic motifs in the late 1980s or a collection based on Toulouse-Lautrec in 1991.
Gaultier challenges orthodox notions of the presentation of gender through both male and female dress and ignores the stereotypical femininity normally paraded on the catwalks of traditional Parisian haute couture. During his employment at Jean Patou, Gaultier recognized how most couturiers ignored the female form at the expense of the construction of a particular line. He was, on one occasion, horrified to see a model having to wear heavy bandages to suppress her breasts in order for the dress she was modelling to hang properly. This impulse eventually culminated in a controversial series of negotiations of the corset, stemming from his interest in the exaggerated definition of the female form it produced. In the 1980s he redefined this usually private, hidden garment, whose traditional function is to provide a structure from which to hang the more important outerwear, by recreating it as outerwear itself. One of these, the Corset Dress of 1982, commented astutely on femininity, constructing the breast less as a soft malleable object of passive attraction and more as an object of power, a female weapon, whilst at the same time alluding to the conically stitched bras of the 1950s sweater girl— a particularly tacky glamor. These ideas achieved mass attention when Gaultier designed the costumes for Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour in 1990.
By 1984 Gaultier had decided to move more directly into mens-wear. Through personal experience he could find nothing he really wanted, particularly in terms of sizing, and even unstructured Armani jackets seemed too small. He noticed that men had been buying his women's jackets because of the unusual fabrics and cut, so he began his seminal reworking of the pinstriped suit for both men and women. He displayed a traditional male wardrobe by redesigning such classics as the navy blazer and Fair Isle jumper and dismantling clichés of masculine styling by producing skirts, corsets, and tutus for men. During one notorious catwalk show, female models smoked pipes and men paraded in transparent lace skirts. This acknowledgement of male narcissism and interest in the creation of erotic clothing for men, as shown in the Man-Object Collection of 1982, influenced designers such as Gianni Versace into the early and mid-1990s.
Gaultier is perhaps best associated with the rise of popular interest in designer clothing in the mid-1980s. His redefinitions of traditional male tailoring made his clothes instantly recognizable amongst so-called fashion victims in most of the major European capitals, using details such as metal tips on collars and extended shoulder lines. Structured, fitted garments like jackets were reworked, being cut long and slim over the hips to mid-thigh to give an hourglass shape to the wearer's physique.
Gaultier has always been interested in new developments in fabric and intrigued by the design possibilities of modern artificial fibers, and is known for using unconventional fibers like neoprene. He uses fabrics outside of their usual context, such as chiffon for dungarees, resulting in a utilitarian garment being produced out of a delicate material traditionally associated with eveningwear. This juggling with expected practice directs him to produce items such as a willow-patterned printed textile incorporating the head of Mickey Mouse, and Aran sweaters elongated into dresses with the woollen bobbles taking the place of nipples.
Gaultier rebels against the old school of Parisian couture but, because of his years of training within its system under Pierre Cardin, Jacques Esterel, and Jean Patou, he is a master craftsman. However avant-garde his collections may seem, they are always founded in a technical brilliance-based inventive tailoring and are able to convince because of the technique. While his kitschy designs in the late 1980s and early 1990s gave Gaultier a reputation as the enfant terrible of fashion, his fall 1998 collection-which featured beaded fisherman's sweaters and formal tartan skirts—was one of many that wowed critics by being innovative yet wearable and elegant. Gaultier has noted that the 1990 AIDS death of his lover and business partner influenced his designs by making them simpler and more sober, with less aggression and toughness. After a time, however, he decided his designs were becoming too classic and he went back to making the sexy, irreverent clothing he had been known for.
Gaultier's interest in pulling together diverse cultures has continued, with his fall 1993 line being one of the most controversial examples, inspired by the traditional apparel of male Hasidic Jews. Other collections in the 1990s were influenced by the dress of Mongolia, the punk subculture of London, and Eskimo culture, among others. Mixed in were departures such as a 1996 tribute to Pierre Cardin and a 2000 line inspired by the 1970s television series The Love Boat. Gaultier admits he watches television constantly, sometimes several programs at a time, to gain inspiration.
Gaultier's profile has been raised by his work as a costume designer for films such as Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), Pedro Almodovar's Kika (1993) and Luc Besson's The Fifth Element (1997). He has also hosted a comedy series, EuroTrash, on British television and created a line of furniture which included a two-person chair on wheels and a dresser constructed from luggage.
Gaultier opened his own couture house in 1997, becoming just the second designer in three decades to create couture under his own label. Some of his most creative and praised collections have occurred since that time. From a strapless, feather-enhanced denim ball gown to a seashell-bodiced dress with a feather-covered skirt, he has won a reputation for apparel combining outrageous features with high-quality tailoring and detailing.
French classic luxury goods company Hermés purchased a 35 percent stake in Gaultier's operation for $23.1 million in 1999, a seemingly odd-couple pairing that caught the industry by surprise. The infusion of cash will help Gaultier expand his retail operation, take control of some of his licensing operations, such as jewelry, expand into new categories such as timepieces and footwear, and boost his international business
In 2000 Gaultier renewed his fragrance and cosmetics license with Shiseido and Beauté Prestige International, a longtime alliance known for its daring packaging. BPI launched Gaultier's Fragile fragrance in 2000 with a highly publicized snow globe package featuring a tiny figure dressed in Gaultier couture. Meanwhile, the designer expanded his licensee list with the additions of companies such as Wolford, an Austrian luxury hosiery firm.
Despite positive critical reviews and a high profile, Gaultier's revenues have been lower than many other couture labels; the Hermés stake may cause this to change. But what will not change is Gaultier's attention to hand-crafting and singular details, his gender-and culture-crossing designs, and his sense of fun.
updated by KarenRaugust