Pin It
Ad campaign for the Tribute to Frida Kahlo collection. Women's prêt-à-porter SS98Illustration by Fred Langlais and art direction by Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier: Be My Guest

We take a closer look at the hidden codes behind the invitations to Gaultier's oracular-spectacular shows

Jean Paul Gaultier has a secret. Sort of. Whilst other designers may be more abstract about their inspirations, Gaultier is known to theme a whole collection on a culture, object or person and that element of inspiration will be obvious from the first look onwards. But even before the guests have settled beside the catwalk – hints of Gaultier’s love of global and historical ephemera are beautifully realised in his invitations – all designed by the l'enfant terrible himself. 

From stark graphic collages reminiscent of Russian communist literature combined with Hannah Hoch’s irreverent collages, to illustrated beach scenes of sailors in denim cut-offs and gothic fairy godmothers/madams. Whether it’s Dali, The Virgin Mary or Paris in the '20s, Gaultier celebrates it all. The brash colours of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sit alongside a more modern Madonna clad in pale silk with conical breasts and somehow it makes perfect sense.

Roasaries, a scrap of faux fur, a picture of Elizabeth Taylor in the '60s, any of these could be inspirations for the designer. Gaultier has made collections for for warriors, princesses, whores and aliens. Culture – old or new – is as intrinsic to the Frenchman’s style as corsets and Breton stripes. The invitation for his SS95 show Fin de Siecle displays this dramatic and playful mash-up of genres perfectly. A haphazard collage of 1950s tea dresses, the infamous conical bra and a stellar amount of leather and chains – Gaultier has created the ultimate woman, without even starting the show.

In recognition of Gaultier's image-making, for the first time ever this extensive body of invitations will be showcased at the satellite exhibition Jean Paul Gualtier: Be My Guest at the London College of Fashion, Fashion Space Gallery which runs alongside the Barbican's exhibition until the end of May.