Jean Paul Gaultier, a French haute couture (exclusive, custom fit clothes) and prêt-à-porter (ready to wear) fashion designer and one of the greatest couturiers in the world. Known for his unorthodox clothing designs, inclusivity and diversity, his fashion label ‘Jean Paul Gaultier’ was launched in 1982 and expanded to fragrances in 1993.
How it all began
Jean Paul Gaultier was born 24th April 1952 in Arcueil, France. During his childhood he spent a lot of his time visiting his maternal grandmother who sparked his passion for fashion. Jean Paul took a lot of inspiration from her wardrobe and was particularly fascinated by her corsets, an influence we still see today.
As a teenager Jean Paul spent time looking through fashion magazines to keep up with the latest styles and designers. He would came up with his own clothing designs for both his mother and grandmother.
Jean Paul did not attend any fashion school or have any formal fashion training, instead he began his journey to the fashion industry by sending off sketched designs to several famous Parisian designers. So inspired by his talent Pierre Cardin offered Jean Paul a position as assistant in his fashion house, a role which began on his 18th birthday.
Over the next few years Jean Paul would go to work for Jacques Esterel and Jean Patou before returning to work for Pierre Cardin, where he managed the Pierre Cardin boutique in Manila. It came to Jean Paul’s attention that the corporation had put him on a ‘no leave’ list, so he invented a family emergency so he could leave, but he never returned.
The First Collection
In 1976 Jean Paul Gaultier released his first individual collection, at the time his designs were found to be decadent, however fashion editors from Elle magazine and the French Marie Claire magazine were impressed by his creativity and skill in tailoring they later helped to launch his career. In 1982 the Jean Paul Gaultier fashion label was founded with the help from his partner Francis Menuge.
Unorthodox Styles and Controversy
It was not long before Jean Paul earnt himself the reputation as the ‘bad boy’ of fashion, or the ‘enfant terrible’ which translates to mean someone usually young and successful who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, or avant-garde.
‘I love to blend clothes, people, social classes, genres… and have fun with it’. Jean Paul Gaultier
In 1980 Jean Paul designed a collection of dresses for women made out of black bin liners (bin bags).
His 1983 ‘Boy Toy’ collection saw the relaunch of the marinière (a cotton long sleeved top with white and navy blue stripes, characteristically worn by the Frency Navy) for men.
At the London and Paris fashion shows during the Autumn/Winter season, Jean Paul introduced a line of kilts for men, another breakthrough in the fashion industry that caused some controversy.
1984 saw the introduction of the iconic women’s corset with cone bra, which would later go on to inspire the infamous creation he made for Madonna and her Blond Ambition Tour.
By 1985 the company was hugely successful making $50 million in worldwide sales and the Queen of Pop Madonna was wearing a skirt with men’s suspender which she had bought from Gautier for the movie Desperately Seeking Susan.
1988 saw the brand expand to include a new label ‘Junior Gaultier’ which was a lower-priced line of products. The Junior Gaultier was chosen by Jeff Banks as Dress of the Year.
The French accordionist Yvette Horner relaunched her career with a new look created by Jean Paul, which was a great success.
Sadly in 1990 Jean Paul’s long term life and business partner, Francis Menuge died from an AIDS related illness.
The launch of the Jean Paul Gaultier Perfume
Setting himself a new challenge, Jean Paul created his first fragrance, ‘Classique’ in 1993. It was a resounding success and in high demand from Gaultier fans. The Classique perfume is an enchanting combination of vanilla, orange blossom and ginger housed in an iconic curvacious bottle. Its masculine counter part, Le Male has fresh, yet seductive notes of lavender and mint. The bottle is equally epitomous with its masculine curves and tin container. The sensual undertones have become identifiable as the House of Gaultier. Le Male was equally successful and became one of the best-selling fragrances in the world.
Jean Paul Gaultier is still one of fashion’s most notorious designers, however he announced his retirement from haute couture fashion shows on 17th January 2020.