Today is the 70th birthday of the French haute couture and prêt-à-porter fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. He pushed the boundaries of fashion and widened the awareness of fashion as art. The world is a better place because he is in it.
NAME: Jean-Paul Gaultier
OCCUPATION: Fashion Designer
BIRTH DATE: April 24, 1952
PLACE OF BIRTH: Arcueil, France
BEST KNOWN FOR: Jean-Paul Gaultier is a French designer known for his influential designs, especially the creation of Madonna’s infamous conical bras for her 1990 Blond Ambition tour.
The only child of a bookkeeper and a cashier, Jean Paul Gaultier developed a taste for fashion at a young age. He spent much of his childhood with his maternal grandmother, and found inspiration in her closet – her corsets in particular fascinated him. He even once made a bra for a stuffed bear – a childhood artifact that was featured later in an exhibition of his work.
At only 13 years old, Gaultier came up with designs for his grandmother and his mother. He loved fashion magazines and kept up with the latest designers. And like the top designers, Gaultier began to develop his own collections. He sent off some of his sketches to several Parisian designers, and landed a job with designer Pierre Cardin on his eighteenth birthday. It was his first experience with formal design training.
Gaultier started his career as an assistant for Cardin in 1970 and then moved to Jean Patou the following year. Around this time, Gaultier was also influenced by the work of Yves Saint Laurent. Gaultier eventually returned to Cardin, before working as a designer in the Philippines.
In 1976, Gaultier established his own fashion label and held his first runway show in Paris. He opened his business with the assistance of his significant other, Francis Menuge, and together they helped establish the Jean Paul Gaultier brand. Gaultier received later financial backing from Kashiyama, a Japanese clothing company.
Before long, Gaultier became known as the bad boy of the fashion world. He challenged popular notions of gender and drew from edgy street and punk influences. One early look he created for women involved mixing a tough leather jacket with a crinoline skirt with sneakers. Gaultier put undergarments front center with his corset dresses, which debuted in 1983. Two years later unveiled his skirts for men, another effort by the designer to subvert gender stereotypes. He also defied expectations with his runway shows, developing a reputation for over-the-top spectacles. Often wearing his trademark kilt and Breton striped-sweater, Gaultier quickly became one of fashion’s most high-profile figures.
In 1990, Gaultier suffered a personal and professional loss when his partner Francis Menuge died of AIDS. Gaultier didn’t succumb to the setback, though. That same year he created one of his signature looks that the same year as the costume designer for Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour. She appeared on stage wearing a cone-shaped bra under a men’s style suit with strategic slashes in the front. The cone bra, which seemed to be a fusion of antique and futuristic lingerie, earned Gaultier new levels of attention from the fashion world.
A few years later, Gaultier launched his first perfume and hosted his own television show Eurotrash. He also used his great imagination to design costumes for such films as The City of Lost Children and The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. In 1997, Gaultier launched his first couture line.
If not a young rebel any longer, Gaultier remains one of fashion’s most innovative and creative designers. He partnered with the French fashion house Hermés in 1999, selling it a 35 percent stake in his business (which later grew to 45 percent). During his time with Hermés, Gaultier also served as the artistic director of the company’s women’s wear line in addition to designing his own clothes.
Gaultier continues to expand his business in new directions, adding several new fragrances and launching a children’s clothing line. He has also become a favorite for many celebrities, including Naomi Watts, Marion Cotillard, and Nicole Kidman. Kidman wore one of his dresses to accept the Best Actress honors at the 2003 Academy Awards. Cotillard dressed in Gaultier for her Oscar win in 2008 as well. Continuing to work behind the scenes, Gaultier has created more designs for stage and film. He created the costumes for Kylie Minogue’s X Tour in 2008 and for filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education (2004) and The Skin I Live In (2011).
Also in 2011, Gaultier ended his relationship with Hermés. Puig, a Spanish perfume and fashion giant, bought a 60 percent stake in his company in May. He told WWD that he was “thrilled” with the sale. “They are buying Gaultier for Gaultier, not to turn it into something else.”
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The September Issue (16-Jan-2009) as Himself
Absolument fabuleux (29-Aug-2001)
Catwalk (16-Feb-1996) as Himself
Prêt-à-Porter (25-Dec-1994) as Himself