The dA-Zed guide to Jean Paul Gaultier

Ahead of his hot new exhibition, we decode the directional design maverick in 26 letters

dA-Zed of Jean Paul Gualtier

Provocation is second nature to Jean Paul Gaultier. From conical bras to leather girdles, second-skin bodysuits and gender-bending silhouettes, the self-confessed ‘frencher than french’ designer has shocked and sensationalized fashion with his radical, boundary-pushing collections for almost four decades.

Now, to celebrate his invaluable impact on pop culture, the Barbican Gallery offers a unique insight into the diverse influences behind the 61-year-old’s work with an extensive retrospective exhibition: The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the sidewalk to the catwalk. Expect to see his feted collections alongside never-seen-before video clips, iconic photographs and original illustrations. The show opens on the 9th of April, allowing you plenty of time to swot up on all things JPG with our handy, alphabetized guide…

A IS FOR ANDROGYNY

Gaultier has consistently used design as a way to deconstruct conventions about gender and sexuality. Famed for flipping the script, he’s put men in thigh-grazing skirts and women in dapper tailoring since ‘84. Oh, and did we mention that the striking transgender model Andrej Pejic is one of his current muses? 

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Andre Pejic via: druuuuuugs.tumblr.com

B IS FOR BRETON

Breton is in the blood for Gaultier. Not only was the style savant born and raised in Arcueil, France, but the ubitiquous Gallic striped sweater remains a staple in both his work and his very own wardrobe. 

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Jean Paul Gaultier, 1990. Designed specially to illustrate the cover of the autobiographical photonovel À Nous Deux la mode. © Pierre et Giles/Rainer Torrado

C IS FOR CODPIECE

What do Henry VIII and Jean-Paul Gaultier have in common? A penchant for the codpiece. Be it metal, knitted wool or embroidered satin, the bulge-enhancing adornment has enhanced and eroticised some of the designer’s most feted runway looks. 

D IS FOR DRESSING THE STARS

Glamorous, daring and elaborate – Gaultier’s designs have long been favoured by A-list popettes and Tinseltown’s elite. Who could forget the asymmetric, silhouette-skimming knitted dress Rihanna wore to the 2011 Grammy Awards, or the sequined, fish-scale gown that Marion Cotillard championed at the Oscars in 2008? Even clean-living Gwyneth Paltrow upped the ante and dared to bare in one of his graphic, one-shoulder cuts. 

E IS FOR EUROTRASH

He’s a man of many talents, that Gaultier. Let us not forget his unexpected stint as a TV presenter on the cult ‘90s comedy series Eurotrash. Flashy, trashy and unashamedly cheeky, the programe presented an offbeat look at European pop culture. High notes included no holds barred interviews with photographer Ellen Von Unwerth, supermodel Naomi Campbell, punk pioneer Malcolm McLaren (…and Gizmo, Finland’s only singing dog). 

F IS FOR FILM

From the runway to the silver screen, Gaultier has been tapped to design the costumes for a multitude of motion pictures. From Luc Besson’s iconic Fifth Element - in which he kitted out supermodel Milla Jovovich in a tango-orange bob, white spandex co-ords and a sci-fi-inspired harness – to Pedro Almodovar’s Kika, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children and Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.  

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Milla Jovovich as Leeloo in Luc Besson’s 1997 film The Fifth Element Photo by Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment/Photofest. © Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment

G IS FOR GAULTIER PARIS

Gaultier courted controversy once again in January 1997, when he made his haute couture debut at a time when the relevance of bespoke fashion in modern life was the subject of much debate. Entitled Gaultier Paris, the collection was one of his most revered to date, confirming his avant-garde tailoring skills and exquisite attention to detail.

H IS FOR HOORAY HERMÈS

In 2003, Gaultier succeeded Martin Margiela and took to the helm of the historical French house, Hermès. His first runway offering took place in 2004, when true to form; he put a seductive and subversive spin on the label’s equestrian roots, trotting out leather-trimmed dresses, velvet riding hats and suede jodhpur skirts. His tenure at the luxe brand lasted seven successful years. 

I IS FOR INNATE TALENT

Believe it or not, Gaultier never formerly trained in design. Driven by a childhood love of fashion and a determination to break into the industry, he sent out sets of sketches to 27 fashion houses – including Pierre Cardin, who hired Gaultier as an assistant on his 18th birthday. Gaultier recalls his time at the label with great fondness, citing, “I always felt that anything was possible with Cardin. He was always the showman.” 

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Madonna by Jean Paul Gaultier via: imageamplified.com

J IS FOR JOKER OF THE PACK

Irreverence and humour is an intergral part of Gaultier’s aesthetic. He likes to shock, inspire and make us laugh in equal measure – a trait that’s typically lost in high fashion. Beyond the brand, his Cheshire cat grin (a fitting addition to his peroxide blonde crop, tartan kilt and Breton stripe top) is undoubtedly the reason why his peppy persona has become as high profile as his creations. 

K IS FOR KITSCH

Gaultier found his creative soul mate in pop music’s ultimate kook – Lady Gaga – three years ago, after a chance meeting led them to collaborate on a vibrant fashion film called Gaga by Gaultier. In the two-part documentary, the designer grills the songstress on her life, personal style, musical aspirations and what it means to be trisexual.

L IS FOR LINGERIE DRESSING

Gaultier recalls creating his first conical bra-top for his childhood teddy bear, nana, aged seven – “I wanted to have a doll to dress up but my parents didn’t want me to – ‘A doll, non, that’s for a girl, come on!’ – so I made my first transvestite teddy bear instead.” It was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with lingerie and more specifically the exploration of underwear as outerwear; a theme that has dominated his collections since the early ‘80s, when he teamed a bralet with a masculine suit jacket. 

M IS FOR MADONNA

In 1989, just two days before his fall RTW show, Madonna called Gaultier and asked him to design the costumes for her upcoming Blonde Ambition tour. The resulting looks, including a torpedo-shaped conical bra and flesh-coloured silk basque – rank among the most iconic fashion looks of all time and made the designer a household name. In the April 2013 issue of Dazed & Confused, he refers to the collaboration as: “the most incredible of my career.”

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Madonna, Blonde Ambition tour, 1990 via:billboard.com

N IS FOR NAUGHTY BOY

Since the launch of his eponymous label in 1976, Gaultier has become synonymous with sex, subversion and provocation via bondage-inspired accessories, lingerie dressing and a hefty dose of rubber. It’s no wonder then, that he’s been dubbed as fashion’s ultimate L’Enfant Terrible. 

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Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture SS07 via: eye.fashionary.org

O IS FOR OUT OF THIS WORLD

…Because when it comes to Gaultier, a picture really does speak a thousand words. 

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Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture SS07 via: idreamofaworldofcouture.tumblr.com

P IS FOR POP STAR

Weird but true. In 1989, Gaultier released a dance track called How to Do That; which was written and co-produced by English musician Tony Mansfield. Hit the play button to catch a glimpse of all the gyrating, leather-clad madness below… 

Q IS FOR QUESTIONABLE ANTICS

From pret-a-porter to poultry, Gaultier once gifted some of fashion’s most influential editors live turkeys as Christmas gifts, because according to the designer he, “admired their natural instinct for strutting like models and thought they were beautiful.” 

R IS FOR REAL LOVE

Gaultier attributes much of his stellar career trajectory to Francis Menuge, his former business partner, first serious boyfriend and the love of his life. Menuge tragically died of AIDS in 1990, causing Gaultier to retract from the spotlight for several years. Today, he continues to raise awareness and funds for the cause. 

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Jean Paul Gaultier and Madonna at the AIDS Benefit gala show LA, 1992 via: TheArchivist

S IS FOR SCENT

Riding on the wave of his ‘90s success, Gaultier launches his first namesake scent. With notes of vanilla, rose, amber and orange, the perfume pays homage to the sensuality of a woman and comes bottled in a curvaceous glass flank in the shape of a female torso. Since then, the spritz-happy house of JPG has gone on to create a further 55 fragrances for both men and women. 

T IS FOR TECHNICAL FEATS

It’s not just the 140+ haute couture and ready-to-wear looks that inspire in Gautier’s much-anticipated exhibition, From the sidewalk to the catwalk. Using pioneering technology, the retrospective additionally features 32 mannequins with voice-overs and animated faces that move around and do the catwalk – bringing his spirited creations to life in a typically witty manner. 

U IS FOR URBAN

Punk-inspired tartan, low-slung skater denim and politically charged slogan T-shirts: Gaultier is renowned for translating lo-fi trends into high fashion and has called on both British and American street style culture to inform some of his most famous work. Standouts include his Spring 2011 Punk Cancan collection – where he paired rainbow-patterned brocade suits with razor-sharp mohawks and topped off silver chainmail tees with studded biker jackets. 

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Jean Paul Gaultier AW14 Shot by Lea Colombo

VIS FOR VIVE LA DIFFERENCE!

From 70-year-old punks to Mohawk-clad children, transvestites, ninjas, small people and plus-size popstars such as The Gossip’s Beth Ditto, Gaultier flies the flag for diversity with his powerfully obscure casting of runway models. The very notion of embracing difference scoffs at beauty stereotypes and sets him apart from his contemporaries. 

W IS FOR WINEHOUSE

In tribute to the late British songstress Amy Winehouse, Gaultier dedicated his entire Spring 2012 Haute Couture collection to her cartoonish, trademark style. Cue: teased candy-colored beehives, spangly ‘50s pin-up cuts and lashings of coquettish winged eyeliner.

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Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture SS12

X IS FOR X RATED

Addressing societal taboos and religious iconography through fashion has ruffled feathers and raised eyebrows of many style classicists over the years. His most rebellious oeuvre, Chic Rabbis (yes, really), was inspired Orthodox Jews and presented traditional masculine hairstyles and garments on female models. Today it remains one of the most contentious collections of all time. 

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Jean Paul Gaultier Chic Rabbis, 1993 via brianoconnorfashionlsad.blogspot.com

Y IS FOR YOUNG AT HEART

Gaultier may be 61, but his desire to feed our imagination with dramatic collections shows no sign of abating. His awe-inspiring Spring 2014 Haute Couture show was testament to this. With a renewed focus on corsetry and innovative tailoring, models sauntered down the runway in colourful, curve-contouring tulle basque-dresses that were said to mirror the shape of Parisian butterflies. 

Z IS FOR ZODIAC

It’s written in the stars for Gaultier, who exhibits all the typical traits of his Taurus astrology sign – independent, persistent, artistic, patient, ambitious and sensual with an eye for beauty. 

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