Jean Paul Gaultier stands as one of fashion’s greatest personalities as well as the shining jewel in Paris's couture crown. The enfant terrible of the nineties, he is credited with the defining fashion of the decade, blending gender and genre with his pinstripe suits, nautical androgyny, corsetry and lingerie dressing. He created Madonna’s defining Blonde Ambition tour costumes, including the iconic cone-bra, and championed stretch Lycra through his signature bodysuits. He debuted his first couture collection in 1997, which was later recognised as saving a dying trade. Essentially, when it came to fashion in the late twentieth century, he more or less invented the wheel.
"Gaultier is credited with the defining fashion of the nineties, blending gender and genre with his pinstripe suits, nautical androgyny, corsetry and lingerie dressing"
Gaultier is famed for his wild antics; he reportedly once sent live turkeys to disapproving editors, co-hosted Eurotrash and told Carla Bruni that his favourite item of clothing was a condom. He is recognisable in breton sailor stripes, figurine bottles, peroxide hair and Haute Couture PVC, his irreverent, playful persona identifiable in each collection. However, expertise and craftsmanship are also very much at the heart of the legacy of Gaultier. He worked at the helm of Hermès from 2004 to 2007 and he is often referred to as the successor to Yves Saint Laurent. From his 1984 Et Dieu Créa L’Homme collection which presented men wearing kilts, to Coco Rocha Irish dancing down the runway for A/W07, Gaultier is a showman, a maverick but first and foremost a skillful tailor.
Tomorrow sees the opening of his traveling retrospective exhibition in London – The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk originated in Montreal and now occupies space at the Barbican. London holds a special place in the designer's heart: "the London street has always been my favourite muse," he told AnOther. "She has been a constant inspiration throughout my career."
Here, Gaultier answers Jefferson Hack's version of the Proust questionnaire.
What are you thinking of right now?
What makes you laugh?
Nothing at the moment.
What makes you cry?
La moutarde de Dijon and wasabi.
What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure who has guided or influenced you?
My teddy bear Nana.
Where do you feel most at home?
Where are you now?
What is your proudest achievement in work?
A cone bra for my teddy bear.
What is your proudest achievement in life?
To have stayed true to myself.
What do you most dislike about contemporary culture?
I have some kind of magnetism that interferes with all of the electrical appliances and cell phones... I am an analog in a digital age.
What do you like about the age we live in?
Nothing changes, everything changes.
At what points do life and work intersect?
I didn't know you could ask that question. They are intertwined everywhere. My work is my life.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Shut up and be beautiful.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Bleaching my hair for twenty years to be a perfect blonde.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Being scared being taken to hospital with typhoid fever at the age of three.
What’s the most important relationship in your life?
What’s the most romantic action you’ve taken?
To share a can of cat food with my cat in front of the TV.
If you could wish for one change in the world what would it be?
That politicians realise and assume that they are actually just bad actors.
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk is at the Barbican, London, until August 25.