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Jean Paul Gaultier - Biography

Here's everything to know about French designer Jean Paul Gaultier

French Fashion Designer Jean-Paul Gaultier
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Born on April 24, 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 ingenue 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. 

jean paul gaultier
Jean-Paul Gaultier was interested in fashion from a young age

As the most junior member of Cardin, Jean Paul was made redundant because the house was over-staffed, and the star moved on to work 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 was able to return home. 

North stood with her mom at Paris Fashion Week© Getty Images
North with her mom at Jean Paul Gaultier's fashion show during Paris Fashion Week in 2022

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 the 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. 

Jean Paul Gaultier
Jean-Paul Gaultier is a fashion icon

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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