Interview with Jean-Paul Gaultier: \"I have always been for the equality of sexes\"

Interview with Jean-Paul Gaultier: "I have always been for the equality of sexes"

The freedom of fashion

Text: Andrea Sim

A glimpse into the colourful world of fashion's bad boy, Jean-Paul Gaultier

The French designer has been called many names: 'Gender-bending provocateur', 'master couturier', 'fashion's bad boy', and even the 'l'enfant terrible' of his time. Jean-Paul Gaultier, it seems, has a penchant for scorning the rules. Mutineering with man-skirts in '84 and empowering Blonde Ambition with cone bras in the '90s are but a handful of the recusant's most defiant moments penciled into fashion history; fuelled by a personal code of divergence inbuilt into his DNA.

But amidst the uproarious chatter surrounding Gaultier's most rousing showpieces, therein lies a refined extravagence defining his oeuvre — one that has him eternally bonded to the face of fashion. For instance, his ability to purvey glamour as an attitude — and not just a glitzy outfit — be it through a diaphanous, sequin drenched gown, or a corset sculpted to the body with hardly a stitch more on. And then, there's his courage to be quiet too, with pockets of crisp-cut tailoring extraordinary in its precise draping. The thread of commonality running through it all? His unequivocal prowess in making women look good. Or rather, downright gorgeous. 

So, as the designer partners up with Swarovski to attire the honoraries and attendees of the Fashion Awards 2016 — a red carpet fundraiser for the British Fashion Council Education Foundation's charity, as well as a celebration of UK's outstanding fashion talents — we find out which of the nominees Gaultier holds in high regard, his best memory from designing for Madonna in the '90s and, what surprises the provocateur in this day and age.

Who are you rooting for at the Fashion Awards 2016, and what do you love about his or her work?
As a fellow designer and now a red carpet host, I am going to be impartial and let the best win. However, I am delighted that Bruce Weber and Franca Sozzani are both being awarded a prize. I have known them almost all my fashion life and I respect them enormously.

What is the greatest satisfaction you get from collaborating with Swarovski?
It brings the sparkle into my life, and I hope I bring a bit of a sparkle into theirs as well.

Jean Paul Gaultier at the Fashion Awards 2016

Clara Plaget in Atelier Swarovski jewellery

What is it about the human form that intrigues you?
Everything. I love working on the body. Drawings are just the starting point for me — everything happens during the fittings. Sometimes, I have 10 or 12 [sessions] on the same outfit before I arrive at what I am looking for.

When you first presented the ‘man skirt', it definitely surprised people. In recent fashion, what was the last thing that surprised you, and why?
The return to [the] politically correct is what surprises me most nowadays.

And what does androgyny mean to you? How do you think fashion has progressed in this aspect since you've been part of the conversation years ago?
I have always been for the equality of sexes. I think that women are stronger than men and more intelligent, and men should be allowed to show their more feminine side. The first skirt for men was inspired by the apron that Parisian waiters wear and it was more a 'pant-skirt'. As for today, I think that there is more and less freedom at the same time.

Your designs possess so much depth — from the shapes and prints to embellishments — that create amazing texture. Where do you begin with each collection you're designing?
It can be something really banal, or something that I have been thinking of for years. For example, my last couture collection was inspired by a trip to Japan and amazing wood houses and gardens that I have seen. So after having recreated the club Palace and the '80s partying scene [in spring 2016], I had a need for something quieter and more connected to nature.

"To be different is to be beautiful; I always found beauty in difference. True liberation comes with being yourself and not pretending."

When it comes to designing for Madonna, what was one of the best memories you've had from the experience?
I loved everything about my collaboration with Madonna on the 'Blonde Ambition' tour. We were in complete synchronicity and she knew exactly what she wanted, but at the same time, gave me complete freedom. There was one time when she had a concert in Paris and it was my birthday, and she brought me on stage and everyone was singing 'Happy Birthday' to me. I have never forgotten that.

Having been in the news, and written about countless of times, what would you like your headline to say if you had power over that?
Something that concentrated on my work and on my collections. My background and my passion for my work is what keeps me grounded and driven.