One of France’s most famous exports, Jean Paul Gaultier is much more than just a fashion figure. In the UK, he is arguably best known for his kitsch TV series, Eurotrash, which he presented with fellow Frenchman Antoine de Caunes, in the mid-Nineties.
Born on 24 April 1952 in Acueil, France, Gaultier started his career in 1970 as a design assistant at Pierre Cardin. Following a stint at Jean Patou (working under Michel Gomez) and a brief return to Cardin, he set up his own label in 1976, rejecting his training in favour of a style which drew more from the London street scene than Parisian couture.
Though technically brilliant, Gaultier has always taken great delight in parodying the fashion establishment. In fact, he is credited with redefining many fashion conventions. In the Eighties, he recreated underwear as outerwear, with a series of designs which culminated in thecorset dress and black studded bra made famous by Madonna in her Blonde Ambition tour of 1990. (In 2001, the bra fetched £14,000 at auction.) He also attempted to dismantle the clichés of masculine styling, creating a skirt for men in 1988.
Besides his men’s and womenswear lines and the haute couture collection he launched (to great reviews) in January 1997, Gaultier has introduced JPG, a younger and sportier line for both sexes, and a range of eponymous fragrances, starring in some of the campaigns himself. In July 1999, Hermès invested $15 million in his business as part of a deal which Gaultier described as “a dream marriage”. In return, he awarded the company 35 per cent of all his future royalties, plus “preferential rights” over many of his new designs.As a designer and an entertainer, Gaultier is tirelessly talented. In 1989, he released a record, Aow Tou Dou Zat (or “How To Do That”) in collaboration with Tony Mansfield, though fortunately he did not give up the day job. He has also designed the costumes for many films including Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, his Wife and her Lover (1989), Pedro Almodóvar’s Kika (1994) and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997). He also won the chance to play himself in the French film version of the TV series Absolutely Fabulous (Absolument Fabuleux), alongside Jennifer Saunders and Catherine Deneuve, in 2001.
That same year, Gaultier received one of France’s highest honours, being awarded the title of Chevalier in the Bastille Day honours list.