Jean-Paul Gaultier

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"When I am truly, truly certain," said Jean-Paul Gaultier, "I am obstinate". Lambasted as the 'enfant terrible' of French fashion, the anglophile designer's carefully considered approach, hidden behind a façade of peroxide hair and flippant phrase, is only just becoming recognised for its liberating effect upon young designers.

Born on April 24, in 1952, Jean-Paul grew up in a self-contained Parisian suburb. He spent a large part of his youth skipping school to stay at his grandmother's house, drawing imaginary high fashion collections and listening to the gossip of the ladies of the town who came to her for beauty treatments and tarot readings.

Obsessed with haute couture, the shy ingenu was supported in his design ambitions by his parents - albeit with some reserve - and started his first job on April 24, 1970, working for fashion house Pierre Cardin after school. The position proved an all-consuming passion, and in his own words Jean-Paul "failed brilliantly" after taking his final exams.

A dark period followed, when, as the most junior member of Cardin, Jean-Paul was made redundant because the house was over-staffed. Overcoming this eventually, he worked briefly for Jacques Esterel, where he learnt much of what was to become his signature style, and at the couture house Patou. Returning to Cardin in 1974, he was sent to Manila to represent the company.

His designs proved hugely popular among Philippines" powerful clients, so much so, he says, that the government refused him an exit visa when he wanted to leave. Finally, he claimed that his grandmother had died and went home.

Returning to France in July 1975, Jean-Paul raised the money to present his first collection, with the help of Francis Menuge, the man he has described as the love of his life. It was not until 1978, though, that he received the financial backing to produce his own line.

The platinum blond went on to make the Eighties his own, becoming a part of the pop culture he had so closely followed. Jean-Paul's controversial designs, including dresses for men, and stints as a presenter on camp UK television show Eurotrash confirmed his cult status.

Superstar Madonna certainly agreed, commissioning Jean-Paul in 1990 to design for her Blonde Ambition tour, where he produced outfits including her trademark pointed basque and bra, a look he had previously shown on the catwalk.

In 1997 the controversial Frenchman designed the sumptuous Luc Besson film The Fifth Element, and achieved his childhood dream of releasing his own couture line. And in 2003, fashion house Hermes announced Gaultier would take over as chief designer, the first time in 25 years the creative Frenchman has designed for any label other than his own.

It seems Jean-Paul will always be set against the spirit of his contemporaries. After shaking up the world of fashion as a youth, questioning accepted tenets and originating presentation techniques now built upon by designers such as John Galliano, his couture skills are increasingly rare among the creators who have followed in his footsteps.
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