Jean Paul Gaultier & Haider Ackermann on Dua Lipa, shrooms & love letters

With Ackermann’s takeover of JPG this season, the designers go head-to-head on music that makes them levitate, desert island plans, and the making of their collaborative ‘baby’

Haider Ackermann is the yin to Jean Paul Gaultier’s yang. While his announcement as the fourth designer to take on the mammoth task of reinterpreting the icon’s archive for a season may have seemed unexpected at first, spending an hour with the two reveals the threads that bind them together despite their apparent differences. By his own admission a “heavy person”, Gaultier’s natural exuberance in their animated dialogue brings out a lightness in Ackermann that he doesn’t usually perceive in himself, but has always found admirable in his friend’s work. “I admired the audacity you had,” he says of his first impressions of the world of Jean Paul Gaultier, “the audacity of your work, the lightness, and the sense of humour… which I don’t have.” 

Though definitely of a darker predisposition – manifested in the all-black set and shared uniform for their conversation – Ackermann has the same glint in his eye as his more extroverted counterpart when the duo discuss everything from their different perspectives as seasoned pros and newly minted couturiers, to what they’d take to survive on a desert island. “You take the cakes, I will take the mushrooms. The book, the lover, and the mushrooms,” he lists before clarifying with a laugh that he means “magic mushrooms,” when Gaultier goes off on a tangent about making omelettes from les ceps

Theirs is an easy partnership that translates into exciting plans for the future. For now though, Ackermann follows Sacai’s Chitose Abe, Glenn Martens, and most recently, Olivier Rousteing in looking back through Gaultier’s archives to present his distinctive codes anew for the SS23 couture season. “It’s a very beautiful exercise,” he says of his experience reflecting on such a storied past: “You digest everything and then basically you throw everything away because then it’s a place for your own story to tell.” Likening the process to writing a kind of “love letter” to Gaultier, Ackermann emphasises the importance of each designer writing “in our own handwriting” that the always iconoclastic addressee of said letter wholeheartedly agrees with. “It has, at the end, to be not Gaultier, not Haider… it has to be like if we have a baby together!” 

With the birth of this baby, we sit the designers down to go head-to-head on their mutual admiration for each other’s work, the music that makes them levitate, desert island plans, and the making of their collaborative “baby”. Watch the video above or read the extended transcript below. 

Haider Ackermann: There’s a feeling we’ve known each other forever. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: It’s possible! I remember the first thing I saw of yours were photos when you were doing your first show in Paris. I saw some photos of it and said, ‘Oh, he’s talented!’ You are very good in techniques like tailoring, doing a very nice shape, also sense of colour and creativity. I remember I saw one outfit and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I should have loved to do that!’ It was a kind of bomber which was elongated and doing like a frill. I loved it, I think it was beautiful. I was like, ‘Ugh, I didn’t have that idea!’ But bravo! After, I was always curious what you did each season.

Haider Ackermann: You woke up our curiosity as well. We’ve been very curious, every season, for the last forty years.  I admired the audacity you had, the audacity of your work, and the lightness, and the sense of humour. I’m a very heavy person.

Jean Paul Gaultier: You don’t look like it at all, no! Not at all! 

Haider Ackermann: No, but there is some lightness, and sense of humour, and décollage and jété [to your work] which I don’t have. I admire this because there’s lots of fantasy going on which I might not have as much. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: It’s a game that needs to have a little seriousness, also. I think we have both. 

”I think what we are trying to do here, every designer that has been there, is a kind of love letter to you” – Haider Ackermann

Haider Ackermann: I don’t know what [your design philosophy] is for you but, for me, it’s about keeping the dream going. All work starts with a little idea, a little dream, so if we keep on dreaming then we keep on continuing. There’s always challenges in life, but if you keep that flame burning…that’s the philosophy I have at least, to keep on dreaming. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Yes, definitely! I think it’s one part of our job to make other people see what makes us dream. I’m so influenced by what’s happening around – there are always things that are inspiring. What is important, in reality, is to be a little reflection of what is happening in the air, in society, to be a reflection of what is happening outside of us. 

Haider Ackermann: If you want to make a collection, actually, yeah. It’s a necessity, absolutely. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: It’s not bad also to have style!  And you have style! The idea at the base [of getting a designer to take over each couture season] was not to have somebody who makes a copy of Gaultier. It was somebody that can bring another flavour to the house. To respect, not respect, or destroy even, what I have – I don’t care. You have talent: you have your own touch that you can recognise what you do. I wanted someone that already had an image so it can be more like…

Haider Ackermann: Like a collaboration. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Exactly! Not confrontation, but collaboration, honestly. It has, at the end, to be not Gaultier, not Haider, it has to be like if we have a baby together! How do you feel designing for Jean Paul Gaultier? 

Haider Ackermann: It’s a very beautiful exercise in the first place. You dive into your archives – and your archives are big, there’s a lot to be seen. So you digest everything, and then basically throw everything away because then it’s the place for your own story to tell. I think what we are trying to do here, every designer that has been there, is a kind of love letter to you. So it should be in our own handwriting at the end of the day. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: A love letter, I love that, it’s great. Thank you very much. I am sure that it will make something like the baby I mentioned. 

Haider Ackermann: I hope it’s a cute one! 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Could be twins!

Haider Ackermann: What do you expect out of this collaboration? I’m very curious what your vision would be. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: To be honest, I only expect that it’s yourself, that it’s how you see my style. What you like in my style, how you want to judge it, and what you hate in my style and want to make better! 

I love Dua Lipa’s ‘Levitating’... it was so joyful and I like very dynamic and positive music that makes me levitate... Thank you, Dua” – Jean Paul Gaultier

Haider Ackermann: The thing is, we know so much about your work – about the craziness, the fantasy – and perhaps there has been less seen about the immaculate tailoring that you used to do in haute couture. About the purity, about the masculine, feminine, but in a regular way. Not to reveal too much, but I might take that path. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Very couture type! 

Haider Ackermann: Very couture! Haute couture. Searching for the kind of Jean Paul Gaultier attitude and this grace you used to give – with a kind of grand folie because we need a kind of grand folie in luxury otherwise it would not be luxury, don’t you agree? 

Jean Paul Gaultier: I am completely excited because it is exactly that – always about attitude. I love how Sacai, how she did it with Japanese culture. Glenn after, it was very nice and I loved it because it was truly a little something I have in me, but it was more rigorous from A to Z. Olivier Rousteing was like an homage. I think he was close to my spirit but he did it in his own way which was more like the joyful, positive parts you can find sometimes in my work. 

Haider Ackermann: How did you choose to [give your brand away like this]? It’s very generous to do. It’s very interesting for us designers because you actually reflect even more about your own work. You have more distance towards your work because you search with the eye of another designer; at the same time you’re closer to your work because you’re questioning it much more. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: You know why I think I had that idea? Because I should have liked to do that for someone [else]. I did it for Hermès… I should have never thought to work for Hermès – but do you know why I did it? Because I saw Martin Margiela, and I thought, ‘My God, he’s completely the opposite!’ And in reality, not. He proved it because he did fabulous things in his own way, so I was excited. He did super well, and after I was thinking what should I have done? 

Haider Ackermann: And then you did! It was two totally different worlds, while touching the core of what Hermès was.

Jean Paul Gaultier: I think it’s good because it’s like a challenge to see what you would do for a house which already has a type which is specific. How do you make it in your own way? 

Haider Ackermann: It’s a dialogue, it’s a conversation. It’s like us right now. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Exactly! Adventure! I think couture was crazy creativity at the time [I started]... It’s good to go back to couture, but bring to it creativity and young blood. 

Haider Ackermann: It’s the first time I’m doing this, but it feels like all the people [in couture] are very passionate, and they take their time. It’s focused: it’s about millimetres. When I’m up in your ateliers and seeing all the girls working, it’s quite amazing the time they take for each pleat. It’s just a love letter, and I find it very, very beautiful. You take the time to write it, which is a luxury nowadays, to take the time to do something. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: If you do a wedding dress, you know that you have to give it to girl that is not yet married? You know what she has to do – the tradition in couture? She has to take a little hair and put it in the hemline of the dress and after – the girl that wears the wedding dress – she will get married. It’s like a superstition – it’s beautiful, no? 

Haider Ackermann: Oh wow! Now you’ve put the pressure on me. What do you love about fashion? 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Fashion is, always for me, like life. It’s always changing, always alive, meaning that evolution is continually changing, which is good, which is the contrary of boring. 

Haider Ackermann: And it makes your heart beat faster. It excites me, it’s complex. It’s a reflection of society which is very interesting because when you go back to fashion books and you look at the history, you know exactly what politically happened in those years. It reflects in the clothes so it’s a very good dialogue about the time being. What a shame is that it’s only fragments, people forget sometimes. I’ve seen things which you did in 1994 which is high fashion nowadays... It’s very interesting to learn everything about fashion history and to know all this because people have very short memories, it seems. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: It’s funny because, with time, you can see it with another eye. For somebody that did something before, a long time ago, sometimes it’s difficult for him to see it now in a new way. 

Haider Ackermann: How do you feel when – you must have seen it – sometimes your work is taken over or copied? 

Jean Paul Gaultier: It’s like I see what came before, even now, has some resonance. I love that. To be influenced, everyone is influenced in a way. I’ve been influenced by Saint Laurent, [Pierre] Cardin, Courrèges. I loved Saint Laurent a lot because he was reflecting the time, the changement, the sexuality, etc. So he influenced me in that way, and he has been influenced by Chanel and on and on. It’s normal to be influenced, but you will make your own way because you have other eyes, you have other art, you have somebody else. It’s only the plaigir which is not interesting. Some people do it, that’s OK for them but it doesn’t interest you or me. 

Haider Ackermann: No I don’t like that, we move forwards. Is there anything we hate about fashion? 

Jean Paul Gaultier: No, it’s evolution. To judge fashion is not our work, in reality. It’s not the thing that makes you creative. When I see other creations of other designers, I love it. I remember when I was seeing the first collection of Rei Kawakubo, I was like, ‘My God, my God!’ She did that, it’s fabulous, and I should have loved to do that. When I saw your bomber zipper, Haider, I said, ‘Ah, I didn’t do it! Bravo, he did it.’ I love that, I think it’s very positive to see that. 

Haider Ackermann: I think so too, it lifts you up and it wants to take you forwards, onwards, and upwards. It’s a good thing, it’s a very inspiring thing. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: [It’s the same thing with music.] For me, music always has to be “up”, like vitamins, you know? So I like rhythm, and it’s more like what I show. When I was younger it was David Bowie: I was a fan of the extravagance. [When I made “How To Do That”] to be honest, I should not have imagined it because I sing very badly. That’s why it was not even a song, it was some of my interview that was cut by Tony Mansfield – and we made house music… house of couture music! [Also] it was funny to work with Jean-Baptiste Mondino for the video…That was very visual and that is where I feel the most comfortable – where we feel the most comfortable, I think. 

Haider Ackermann: Yes, but I would have to direct the video clip, that I will say. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Should you like to make a track, Haider? 

Haider Ackermann: I certainly wouldn’t! I don’t have the décollage, the sense of humour I wish I had. I loved when you did it, it was so funny, that Jean-Baptiste Mondino clip was really amazing. So there’s not a second single coming out? 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Not at all, better for everyone! I love Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” [though], I think she’s great! It was music during COVID – it was so joyful and I like very dynamic and positive music that makes me levitate, so that was the case. Thank you, Dua. 

Haider Ackermann: You see, we are so the opposite of one another, it’s incredible. I’m listening to this song called “Baraye”, an Iranian song sung by this young singer in Iran and when it all started with the girls being murdered in Iran, he sung a song about freedom for women, freedom to kiss whoever you want to kiss on the street, freedom for laughing. That’s what’s inspiring me at the moment. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: That’s good. That shows, yes [we are so opposite]. Music with a message, I find it beautiful, but when I listen to music I prefer to hear and feel the musicality.

Haider Ackermann: OK, so we’re going to throw a dinner…

Jean Paul Gaultier: Which person would we take? 

Haider Ackermann: Recently, just the two of us. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: It’s true, that was enough! 

Haider Ackermann: We have enough with each other: we talk about love, sex…

Jean Paul Gaultier: Exactement. When there’s a third, we have less freedom. Maybe because it’s been a long time since I have had dinner with Madonna, [we invite her] – she’s funny and great! Always creative and I always love her. 

Haider Ackermann: I would do Helmut Berger. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Ah, oui! He was incredible in Saint Laurent. Incredible – he looks like Saint Laurent, old, completely. 

Haider Ackermann: I love his whole history. The man had the most decadent life one could possibly imagine. So after dinner, we’ve crashed on a desert island – what are the three things you’re taking with you?

Jean Paul Gaultier: Biographies, maybe someone for sex.

Haider Ackermann: Oh yeah, I would take a lover immediately. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: And also some sweet food. Cakes, cakes, cakes! 

Haider Ackermann: You take the cakes, I will take a bag of mushrooms. The book, the lover and the mushrooms. Off we go! You’re on a desert island, what else should you do? 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Les ceps – you know that kind of mushroom, it’s very delicious, you make it in an omelette? 

Haider Ackermann: Yeah, but I will take the magic mushrooms!

Jean Paul Gaultier: I understood! 

Haider Ackermann: We’ll share, we will make an omelette! 

Jean Paul Gaultier: I bring you and you bring me. 

Haider Ackermann:  What about the sex or the lovers then? 

Jean Paul Gaultier: Then we would have to pose the question? Maybe we can ask somebody else? Why not! We have decided to make a lot of things together. 

Haider Ackermann: Yes, we have a life ahead of us. 

Jean Paul Gaultier: OK, now we do things kinky…

Haider Ackermann:  OK, off I go!