To say I love Jean Paul Gaultier’s work is an understatement. It all began as a teenager in the 1980s. I was fashion-obsessed and though Christian Lacroix, Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler were usually the first to roll off my tongue when asked to name my favourite designers, it was Gaultier that ended up being the label that stuck with me through the last three decades. News that his recent ready-to-wear show in Paris would be his last was indeed sad, but got me thinking about the influence the designer has had on my own wardrobe.
In true Gaultier style, it started with a fantasy. In the 1980s, fashion shows didn’t get much media coverage beyond the trade press and on the Canadian weekly TV show, Fashion Television. But if there was press to be had, it was often Gaultier that got it. Known for his theatrical and occasionally controversial presentations, he made a girl — at least this girl — dream of attending his runways shows and maybe, just maybe, one day owning one of his fantastical designs.
This changed the first time I saw his work close-up. I was in San Francisco. It was probably around 1986. I think it was at Saks Fifth Avenue on Union Square, though I could be wrong. The memory of the store is fuzzy, but my recall of the clothes is not. I remember a black jacket in particular. It was beautifully tailored, exquisitely lined in red. It fit perfectly and unlike anything I’d ever owned. It made me feel powerful, but the garment itself was deceivingly light. It was both sophisticated and classic, not fitting with the wild runway and editorial image I had in my head of Gaultier’s work.
I couldn’t afford the jacket. But after that experience I started to look more closely at his clothes, not the shows. He made a lot of separates. He was a master tailor. He used structure in a way that I loved. I could totally see myself wearing his ready-to-wear. But that would have to wait until the latter half of my 20s, in the 1990s, when I could finally afford it.
Gaultier retiring his ready-to-wear line makes me want to run out to the shop three blocks away from my home that carries his clothes and buy a piece one last time, if not for myself then for my teenage daughter who will one day inherit every designer piece I’ve ever bought. But she doesn’t care much for high fashion or follow the collections. Still, I think she’d appreciate the playful spirit of Gaultier’s work, and perhaps learn to understand how a quality garment feels the way that I did as a teenager trying on that black jacket.
All Jean Paul Gaultier advertising and editorial images originally appeared in the following magazines:
1. Details, March 1989. Photograph by Bill Cunningham.
2. Elle, March 1988.
3. Mademoiselle, September 1984. Photograph by Dominique Issermann.
4. Elle, September 1987. Photograph by Oliviero Toscani.
5. Vogue, June 1984. Photograph by Irving Penn.
6. Vogue, March 1989. Photograph by Ellen Von Unwerth.
7. Elle, February 1988. Photograph by Gilles Bensimon.
8. Elle, October 1987. Photograph by Gilles Bensimon.
9. Elle, October 1987. Photograph by Marc Hispard.