Jean-Paul Gaultier, fashion's Superman Featured

The famous designer reveals his source of inspiration and his key to 35 years of success

Jean-Paul Gaultier is no doubt one of the most important fashion designers in recent decades. With his cone-shaped bras, inspired by his grandmother’s corsets and his teddy bear, Nana, which were sported by Madonna during her Blond Ambition World Tour in the 1990s, the designer has long cultivated pop culture, counter-culture, humour and the elegance of haute couture.

During his adolescence, fashion design became his unique way of self-expression. The designer soon realized that there was a huge disparity between his sketches of fashion models and the way a three-dimensional piece looks on an actual body. Having been turned down by Yves Saint Laurent, it was eventually Pierre Cardin who took Gaultier on.

Cardin, the well-established designer, was fascinated by many of his gifted young apprentice’s ideas. At the end of the 1970s, Jean-Paul Gaultier launched his eponymous label. His dream had finally become a reality. Fashion had never been hipper, thanks to an explosion of talented designers onto the scene (from Gianni Versace to Thierry Mugler, Azzedine Alaïa).

Having established himself as fashion’s darling, he began to explore other fields and began to embrace his passion for contemporary dance and cinema, collaborating with Pedro Almodovar, Luc Besson, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Many of his works have been captured by some of the world’s most famous photographers (Richard Avedon, David LaChapelle, Mario Testino). Everything that Jean-Paul Gaultier touches seems to turn to gold, and his spellbound press and public are testament to this. An exhibition bringing together 35 years of the designer’s avant-garde creations has just opened in Montreal. LUXOS sat down with this extraordinary designer for an interview.

Why did you decide to become a designer?
It was actually my love for the cinema which inspired me to become a designer. I saw a film called Falbalas by Jacques Becker and I decided that I wanted to be just like the character played by Raymond Rouleau. His muse, played by Micheline Presle, made a particularly big impression on me.

How would you define the ‘mythical Parisian woman’ who you frequently evoke in your collections?
I associate the Parisian woman with the image of nostalgia and elegance conveyed by the magazines and television programmes of my youth. As I grew older, I started getting to know many Parisian women who have greatly influenced my designs, notably Edwige Belmore and Farida Khelfa. I know Parisian women inside out, but I don’t think I’ve ever met my Parisian woman!

You have established some of the most iconic designs in the history of fashion. How did you do this?
It could be due to the fact that I often rework and reinterpret certain pieces in each collection. For example, I always try to do something new with the trench coat. It’s one of those truly iconic pieces, like the corset and the biker jacket. I have at least two new ideas for each of these pieces every season and I absolutely love all of them.

After all of these years as a designer, it must be quite hard to invent new things.
Not at all! There’s always something new to invent. I have always tried to remain an observer because I think that invention isn’t real. It all depends on my sensibility, on my ability to understand what women want at any given moment. Creation comes as a result of observation.

Why did you allow the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to exhibit your work?
I felt that, although very beautiful, most fashion exhibitions are generally dedicated to dead people. So I said to myself ‘who cares that I am still alive: let’s do it anyway!’ And then I met Nathalie Bondil (Director of Beaux Arts Museum in Montréal) and Thierry-Maxime Loriot (Curator) and I was so overwhelmed by their charm and energy. I loved the idea of organizing the exhibition like a fashion collection. I also chose to do it in Montreal because there was nothing in the pipeline in Paris at that time.

Who is Jean-Paul Gaultier today?
I am a child who is lucky enough to have a job that I absolutely love.

The exhibition “The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier : from the sidewalk to the catwalk” is at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, until 2nd October 2011, followed by a world tour. See for the tour programme