Fashion’s ‘Enfant Terrible’, Controversy and Couture- Jean Paul Gaultier

After indulging in some research about one of the greatest fashion phenomenons of the century, I became completely seduced by the story to his creative genius, which lead me to reflect on my own passions and dreams for the future of fashion.

Like many great creative intellects, Gaultier grew up with a unique desire to be different and make a difference. His childhood and adolescent years brought about his sensual influences, which would later become is iconic couture designs and gave him the title ‘Enfant Terrible’ as an openly fetishist designer. Working with Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent as a young apprentice gave him his leap into the industry, whilst his inspiration for his own work came from the controversial and outrageous era of 1980’s punk. His creative method to ‘collect, convert, combine'[1] helped him to infuse his work with ideas from the world around him, be it in the streets of London or the night life in Paris. Using recycled materials and sources (like the famous soup can used as his perfume packaging) he portrayed his vision for the utility and beauty of fashion.

‘Fashion is becoming practical, ruling out nothing and enabling everything. Fashion is doing for materials what the romantics did for works’ Guillaum Apollinaire,1911-13[2]

His heyday was definitely the 80’s when women’s liberation was at its peak and the acceptance of sexuality was loud and clear. This movement enabled Gaultier to explore contemporary fashion and mix the divide between masculine and feminine, crossing borders with examples like the extravagant man skirt of SS 1985 and the subtle masculine traits (buttons on the right) in the traditional suit for women of Fall 1989-90. These examples the taboos in fashion were broken to portray the possibilities for an advance in equality between genders for the future.

However much Gaultier  ventured into the risqué style of erotic punk, his love for the sensual simplicity of cut and silhouette for Parisian fashion remained his grounding for his work, ‘separating elegance and vulgarity’[3]

To conclude, I thoroughly respect Gaultier’s vision for change, as I myself enjoy the turnover of fashion because it not only represents societies natural  need for  the new and interesting, but also the drawbacks and boredom of remaining static in old traditions and taboos. As part of my Melting Pot project, the concept of evolution and change in culture and society ties in perfectly with Gautier’s experience of changes in 20th century fashion movements. Although nowadays, there is no obvious political or social movement, like the new age of the 60’s or punk era, which fashion can grow from, there is still room for improvement and expansion in the industry concerning the inventions of new materials, which combined with the regurgitation of past fashion trends can produce a constantly fresh appeal to fashion which suits the tastes and interests in modern society.

[1],[2],[3] Fashion Memoir-‘Jean Paul Gaultier’ by Farid Chenoune 1996


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