Jean Paul Gaultier (born 24 April 1952) is a French haute couture and prêt-à-porter fashion designer. He is described as an “enfant terrible” of the fashion industry, and is known for his unconventional designs with motifs including corsets, marinières, and tin cans. Gaultier founded his eponymous fashion label in 1982, and expanded with a line of fragrances in 1993. Gaultier was the creative director for French luxury house Hermès from 2003–2010. He retired following his 50th-anniversary haute couture show during Paris Fashion Week in January 2020.
Aside from his work in the fashion industry, Gaultier co-presented the first seven series of the television series Eurotrash with Antoine de Caunes from 1993–1997.
Gaultier grew up in a suburb of Paris. His mother was a clerk and his father an accountant. It was his maternal grandmother, Marie Garage, who introduced him to the world of fashion. He never received formal training as a designer. Instead, he began to send sketches to famous couture stylists at an early age. Pierre Cardin was impressed by his talent and hired him as an assistant in 1970. Then he worked with Jacques Esterel in 1971 and Jean Patou later that year again worked for Cardin managing the Pierre Cardin boutique in Manila for a year until 1974.
His first individual collection was released in 1976, and his characteristic irreverent style dating from 1981 has led to his being known as the enfant terrible of French fashion. Many of Gaultier’s subsequent collections have been based on street wear, focusing on popular culture, whereas others, particularly his haute couture collections, are very formal, yet at the same time unusual and playful.
Although most people found his designs decadent at the time, fashion editors, notably Melka Tréanton of Elle, Claude Brouet and Catherine Lardeur of French Marie Claire, were impressed by his creativity and mastery of tailoring, and later launched his career.
In 1985, he introduced man-skirts and promoted their use, especially kilts, in men’s wardrobe, and the release of designer collections. Gaultier has also worked in close collaboration with Wolford Hosiery.
Gaultier caused shock by using unconventional models for his exhibitions, like older men and full-figured women, pierced and heavily tattooed models, and by playing with traditional gender roles in the shows. This earned him both criticism and enormous popularity.
At the end of the 1980s, Gaultier suffered some personal losses, and in 1990 his boyfriend and business partner, Francis Menuge, died of AIDS-related causes.
In 1988 Gaultier released a dance single titled “How To Do That” on Fontana Records, from which came one of the first ever “single title” remix albums, Aow Tou Dou Zat, on Mercury Records. The album includes mixes by Norman Cook, J. J. Jeczalik, George Shilling, Mark Saunders, Latin Rascals, David Dorrell, Tim Atkins, Carl Atkins, and Kurtis Mantronik. It was co-written and produced by Tony Mansfield, and video directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. The album also featured a collaboration with accordion player Yvette Horner.
Starting in 1993, he co-hosted the Channel 4 programme Eurotrash with Antoine de Caunes. Gaultier hosted the show until 1997.
Gaultier with Conchita Wurst, 2014
Gaultier was the creative director of Hermès from 2003 to 2010, where he succeeded Martin Margiela.
He is also well known for sponsoring the 2003–04 exhibit in the Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Braveheart: Men in Skirts,” which showed designs by Dries van Noten, Vivienne Westwood, and Rudi Gernreich in addition to Gaultier’s in order to examine “designers and individuals who have appropriated the skirt as a means of injecting novelty into male fashion, as a means of transgressing moral and social codes, and as a means of redefining ideal masculinity.”
He designed some furniture for the French furniture brand Roche Bobois.
In 2011, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Maison Jean Paul Gaultier organized a retrospective exhibit, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.” That exhibit is on tour with venues at the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design (Arkitektur- och designcentrum, ArkDes) in Stockholm, the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, the Barbican Centre in London, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and the Grand Palais in Paris. The exhibition in Paris, which took place from April to August 2015, was the subject of a documentary called Jean Paul Gaultier at the Grand Palais aired exclusively on Eurochannel.
The “granny grey” hair colour trend is attributed to Gaultier, whose autumn/winter 2011 show featured models in grey beehives. In the spring of 2015, his catwalk show at Paris Fashion Week featured silver-haired models again, as did the shows of other fashion designers, Chanel and Gareth Pugh. The trend soon took off among celebrities and the general public.
In 2012, he was named as a member of the Jury for the Main Competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This was the first time a fashion designer was called to sit on a jury at the festival. That year, he also participated in the Cali ExpoShow in Cali (Colombia), showing his extensive collection of perfumes and all classic clothes.
Up until 2014, he designed for three collections: his own couture and ready-to-wear lines, for both men and women. At the spring/summer 2015 show he announced that he was closing the ready-to-wear labels to focus on haute couture.
In 2018, he staged a cabaret show that was loosely based on his life called “Fashion Freak Show” which took place at the Folies Bergere theater in Paris.
In 2019, he released something very unexpected; A collaboration with New York streetwear brand Supreme. The collaboration was quite sought after by the Supreme community and the streetwear community in general. Some of the items in the collection were: One of his signature fragrances with a supreme “Box logo” on it, a spin on Supreme’s box logo T-shirt, a reversible jacket that held a detachable backpack, multiple items of clothing with floral prints, two Vans sneakers with floral prints, a belt that had the Gaultier Supreme logo on it, a pair of Gaultier’s iconic round glasses, a faux fur coat with a plaid design, a few items of clothing with “F*** Racism” iconography (which was a play on Gaultier’s “Fight racism” T-shirts of the 90s), a pinstripe double-breasted blazer, a pair of pinstripe cargo suit trousers, a pinstripe cargo suit vest and a leather holster.
He announced on January 17, 2020, that his next Paris haute couture fashion show would be his last and that he was retiring from the runway.