It’s not an understatement to say that last night in Paris a piece of fashion history was made: Jean Paul Gaultier, one the last true fashion greats (following the passing of Karl Lagerfeld and Emmanuel Ungaro in the past year), celebrated a whopping 50 years in fashion (yes, really) with a final farewell couture show. It feels like only yesterday the enfant terrible was presenting Eurotrash. And shows like this, clothes like this, creativity like this, just doesn’t exist anymore.
Although, scoop, Gaultier did say backstage that he will continue the brand and plans to name a successor: “I will [appoint] one, but with a new concept - but I cannot tell you more… I will not do it myself,” he teased, reflecting that after 50 years in the industry times had changed and he wanted to be free to explore other fashion-related projects. “I would not enjoy as much making something again and again. In a moment where we have so many houses and so many clothes, I am too old to revolutionise the new system, I have no pretensions. It’s good for me to go on and do the things I love.”
The designer, who turns 68 in April, began working at 18 working with Pierre Cardin, before launching his own company. Some 45 years later, in the Theatre du Chatelet with 1700 guests, an incredible scene unfolded to celebrate the culmination of his career with a one-hour-long spectacular 150-plus look collection divided into the iconic themes for which he’s become so legendary (the sailor years, the crinoline era, riffs on Le Smoking and, and, and...).
“It’s time to rest, though not rest because I cannot stop working, but to do something fresh – like I did with the Fashion Freak Show,” he explained, referring to the biographical-musical-cum-catwalk show he debuted in Paris two years ago – which he wrote, directed and created all the costumes for. “Something not far from fashion, it’s always something with fashion but now the system has changed. The world of fashion is now more about power and people tend to speak more about what is next than the clothes and I am from a generation of the clothes.”
Indeed, there isn’t another designer who has quite the repertoire that Gaultier does. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking you’re seeing something new in fashion because over the course of JPG’s career, he’s had all the ideas and has been responsible for inspiring generations of designers – something that designer Mary Katrantzou told him backstage, too. From the original men in skirts to conical bras, corsets and crinolines, tuxedos any which way but the traditional way all bundled up in his very French blend of irreverence, fun and joie de vivre.
Even today’s conversations surrounding sustainability is something he was already exploring way back when. “I started with no money so I’d go to the flea market,” he explained, noting the appeal of a wartime make-do-and-mend spirit; and recalling his mother taking trousers and turning them into skirts.
“Don’t burn clothes! Recycle them,” were his instructions this season in a brilliant haute couture take on upcycling, which has been a prevalent theme at the couture shows this week - Viktor & Rolf, who were also at JPG’s show, used offcuts to make their collection.
It’s sad to see him go. But he’s not really gone. “Voila, fashion is not dead,” he declared backstage. And, let’s face it, one thing’s for sure, his influence on it is not. Long live JPG in whatever guise the label takes on next.
The things you might have missed
IMAGES | SHUTTERSTOCK