Photo by Roberto Alamo.
On Eurotrash, with co-host Antoine de Caunes.
Mugler & JPG.
The cover of his single, "How to Do That" (or "Aow Tou Dou Zat" in French-English!)
Harper's Bazaar, August 2007.
Bread exhibit in Paris, 2004.
With Beth Ditto, who walked the runway for his Spring/Summer 2011 collection.
And some of our favorite of his creations:
From "Et Dieu Créa L’Homme" – Spring/Summer 1985
The Fifth ElementThe Fifth ElementThe Fifth ElementKikaLa cité des enfants perdusThe Skin I Live InThe Skin I Live In
The imagination of a man like Jean Paul Gaultier almost escapes description. For nearly four decades, the world has seen his irrepressible vision take shape in ways that not only changed the game but actually exploded it–whether on the human body, in the cinema, or all over our interiors. Today, one of the last standing couturiers at the helm of his own empire, Gaultier continues to perfect and probe the relationship between fashion and enterprise. An inspiration to me from the moment I got my hands on my very own Junior Gaultier in the 90s, I confess to being pretty obsessed with JPG.In celebration of his very first international retrospective–The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts–which opens today, I had the honor of interviewing him.
Humberto Leon: Happy belated birthday! What did you do to celebrate?
Jean Paul Gaultier: Thank you. I am on this detox diet at the moment, so I couldn’t even have my birthday cake – I just had a tiny slice.
HL: What was your favorite birthday party of all time?
JPG: I don’t usually make a big fuss of my birthdays; it is something private and intimate. I did have a party for my fiftieth birthday, and I arrived in drag.
HL: This year also marks the 35th anniversary of your first runway collection. And despite nearly 4 decades in the industry, your designs continue to feel new and fresh. How do you seek inspiration?
JPG: Inspiration is never a problem; I usually have too much of it. I sometimes want to say too many things at once. Everything I see can inspire me: the cinema, theater, music.
HL: With Jean Paul Gaultier, you have cultivated a brand in a way that hadn’t been done previously, using a lifestyle approach that explored markets beyond standard ready-to-wear. How did this 360-degree view of fashion–which included home design, children's wear, and beauty–come about? Did you learn about branding from your apprenticeship with Pierre Cardin at age 18?
JPG: No, I learned about freedom from Mr. Cardin. There was an absolute freedom in his studio. I would give him a drawing of an outfit, and he would say, “Great, you can do that now as furniture”. I worked for him in 1970, and he had just opened a theater, but he also did his shows there. He had assistants from all over the world–it was the first time I tried Japanese food with my colleagues from work. It was a great time, and it taught me that you have to have a free spirit to succeed.
HL: You have had some illustrious help yourself. What do you think of former assistant Nicolas Ghesquière’s work for Balenciaga?
JPG: I think that he’s doing a very good job for Balenciaga.
HL: If you were to leave your brand, what qualities would you look for in a successor?
JPG: Well, I don’t know–not leaving yet.
HL: You continue to work with some of the most exciting musicians in the industry, from Madonna to Kylie Minogue to Lady Gaga. Are there any other contemporary pop stars you have your eye on?
JPG: I have had the privilege to have worked with those that I admire, whether it be Madonna [in music] or Pedro Almodóvar in the cinema. I don’t know, there are interesting people out there, but they have to want to work with me.
The music video for his 1988 single, "How to Do That".
HL: We’re actually big fans of your ’88 hit, “How To Do That.” Do you have any plans for more pop songs of your own?
JPG: Thank you, I sold around 30,000 records – almost made it to the Top 50, but I think that was my last foray into the music business as a musician. I prefer to dress the stars.
HL: Tell us about your working relationship with Madonna in the 80s and 90s. Where did the idea for that infamous cone bra come from?
JPG: The first time I saw Madonna was on Top of the Pops. She was singing "Holiday," and she had a fabulous look. (I actually thought that she was English because she was so stylish.) She was into the same things that I was doing at the time, like crosses, oversized jewelry, and fishnets. The second time I saw her live was at the first MTV awards in New York at Radio City Music Hall. It must have been 1984. She sang “Like A Virgin” in a wedding dress and was simulating “self contentment” or “self satisfaction,” to put it euphemistically. The audience was mostly business people, who were horrified. There were just a few young fans–and me, who absolutely loved it. That is when I realized that she couldn’t care less what others thought of her, and I also saw how powerful she was. I was a real fan of Madonna – I loved her music as well as her “personage”. I loved her being the director of her own appearance.
The infamous runway walk the designer took with a topless Madonna.
When I saw her first concert in Paris, I said to myself that she should have asked me to do the costumes. I thought that I would have done them better. So, two years later, when my PR told me just before a prêt-a-porter show that I had to call Madonna, I thought that someone was playing a joke on me. But three days later, I asked if it was true and, to check, I called the number I was given. And it was her in person. She answered, “Hi, Gaultier." Blonde Ambition tour was a real collaboration, friendship, and complicity. She was frightened of nothing, and our vision was in complete harmony and symbiosis.
HL: One of my all-time favorite JPG moments was when you brought out the kilt for men in 1985. What are some memorable runway experiences for you?
JPG: There are so many – I have been presenting shows for my house for 35 years, but let’s say that I still love my first couture in 1997, the défilé, “Chic Rabbis” or the “Tattoo.”
HL: You’ve often designed for film, from the The Fifth Element to La cité des enfants perdus. How does this process differ from designing ready-to-wear?
JPG: When I do my own shows, I am the director and I write the script. I decide on everything. When I work for the cinema, it is someone else who directs, and I try to do the designs in the function of what is asked of me. I have just returned to Paris from Cannes, where I attended the premiere of Pedro Almodóvar's new film, The Skin I Live In. This is the third time that I have worked with Pedro, and I have enjoyed it very much. He is very precise: he knows exactly what he wants. I like to work in the cinema because it is always good to be able to express yourself in different ways.
HL: Carol and I grew up in suburban Southern California, and that has a lot to do with our view on fashion, this teenage mall culture. Does your upbringing in suburban Paris affect your outlook on style?
JPG: I learned through the magazines more than through my suburban experience. I used to buy all the magazines, look at the collections, and then do my own. And if Dior or Cardin had 300 outfits, I would have 310. I even wrote my own reviews.
HL: In your eyes, how has nightlife changed over the years? Are there still places you like to go?
JPG: Yes, but less and less.
HL: Trench coats, nautical stripes, lace, corsets, bombers, trompe-l’oeil. Each can easily be attributed to being popularized by your designs. How do you think your signatures have evolved over time?
JPG: I think it’s up to you to tell me. I have stayed true to my inspirations and there are always corsets or trench coats or navy stripes in my collections, but there is still so much to say.
HL: I personally own (and covet) a lot of Junior Gaultier, your younger, streetwear label from the late 80s/early 90s. Any chance you’ll revive the line?
JPG: I am working on a more casual line at the moment.
A hilarious skit from JPG's stint on BBC comedy talk show, Eurotrash.
HL: You were absolutely hilarious on the BBC program Eurotrash, which you hosted for four years in the 90s. Have you ever considered a career in comedy?
JPG: No, I am not a good actor at all. I am actually very shy, and doing Eurotrash for me was, in a way, putting my shyness to the test…