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Gaultier, Jean-Paul

designs company companies collection

B. April 24, 1952

Birthplace: Arcueil, France

Award: Fashion Oscar Award, 1987

Even in his forties Jean-Paul Gaultier was described as an enfant terrible, a moniker he earned when his began his fashion career in the 1970s. As a designer he embraced an unconventional sense of gender and sensuality. He revised the feminine ideal to include the qualities of strength, power, and authority. To the stereotype of masculinity he added the ideas of sensuality, femininity, and narcissism. This gender redefinition in his designs has become the most enduring characteristic of his work.

Gaultier showed his first collection when he was only thirteen. The small audience consisted of his mother and grandmother. He was often inspired by his grandmother, the person who taught him about makeup and hair-dressing. He attended the Ecole Communale, the College d’Enseignement, and the Lycée d’Arcueil, but he preferred to skip school and work on his designs.

In 1972 Gaultier was hired as an assistant to Pierre Cardin. He worked at a number of other companies including Jean Patou before returning to Cardin. Following his departure from Cardin the second time, he became a stylist in the Philippines.

In 1976 he unveiled his first collection after setting up his own company with two school friends, Francis Menuge and Donard Potard. After financing collections for a few seasons, they found themselves $12,000 in debt. In 1979 the debt prompted them to sign a licensing deal with a Japanese company, Kashiyama to finance Gaultier’s first thematic collection, which was based on the James Bond character. By 1981 he had acquired additional financial support from the Italian companies Gibo and Equator.

Gaultier’s main influence on fashion occurred in the 1980s. His glamorous, theatrical designs appealed to the excess and conspicuous consumption of the decade. From his 1983 slashed and layered look to his chiffon dungarees, he elevated the styles he found on the streets and put them on the designer runway. During this decade he resurrected the conical, pointed breasts of the 1950s and created exaggerated examples for the costumes of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour. Also, he played with the gender roles by introducing men’s skirts and popularizing the corset as outerwear.

Gaultier’s most accepted designs were menswear for men and women. He reworked classic suits, fitting the jackets to produce hourglass shapes. To further stylize the designs he elongated the shoulder lines and added metal tips to the collars.

Although the 1980s marked Gaultier’s height of popularity, it was not until 1996 that he presented his first couture collection. He aimed to keep his designs accessible to the street kids who inspired it by creating JPG, a diffusion line, and licensing such items as furniture, jeans, jewelry, and perfumes. His first fragrance was appropriately packaged in a bottle shaped like a corseted female torso. Shiseido produced this self-titled scent. In 1999 he introduced Fragile perfume, which was packaged in an innovative snow globe bottle.

During the late 1990s many previously independent designers found their companies stagnating. They sold shares of their businesses to larger luxury goods companies to attain enough money to expand their enterprises. In 1999 Gaultier-brand products were earning $390 million a year. By 2000 Gaultier felt that the company could not achieve further growth without additional financial backing. In an effort to alleviate the lack of funds, he sold 35 percent of the company to Hermès.

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