Jean Paul Gaultier managing director Antoine Gagey calls the French house’s archive a goldmine, as it spans more than 30,000 pieces created by France’s beloved “enfant terrible” over a spectacular 50-year fashion career.
Now the brand is opening up that bounty to the public by renting out spectacular runway looks as part of a revamped website that will also sell selections of vintage, with the ultimate goal of reclaiming the resale business as an in-house venture.
Slated to go live Wednesday, the site crystallizes the new thrust of the business with its digital-first distribution model, rotating creative crews, drops instead of collections — and a return to ready-to-wear, six years after the founder halted men’s and women’s rtw and 21 months after the acclaimed designer retired from the runway.
In an exclusive interview, Gagey said its first rtw volley last May, a collection devoted to new interpretations of Gaultier’s fetish sailor theme, effectively sold out “in a couple of hours,” confirming fervent interest in the brand and its new approach, which also includes freewheeling collaborations, upcycled items and “interventions” on garments by the expert hands in the Gaultier couture atelier.
“We believed that there was a potential, and we’re very, very happy with our first results,” he said, citing particular enthusiasm among consumers in France, the U.S. and the U.K.
A one-off couture collection by Chitose Abe of Sacai last July — the plan is to invite a different guest designer each season — was also a success. A three-way collaboration between Jean Paul Gaultier, Sacai and Nike on a Vaporwaffle sneaker sold out in a matter of minutes, while co-branded rtw items in tandem with the couture sold out in days.
The new e-store — with enhanced functionality and editorial elements — represents the brand’s main window to the world, a newfangled concept store blending an array of product categories including fragrances, but without the usual filtering of men’s and women’s.
“We wanted it to be genderless. It’s a way to reassert that we are Jean Paul Gaultier, we are gender-fluid,” Gagey said, speaking in the maison’s Philippe Starck-designed couture salons.
Moreover, “we want to explore new ways of buying and experiencing fashion by mixing in the same platform, on the same page, new looks from our design studio, design collaborations with some guests, re-edition of iconic pieces and also vintage,” he said.
For example, the new-look site will go live Wednesday with a wide array of clothes based on punk style, including tartan tailoring, knitwear and jersey pieces emblazoned with historic logos; a collaboration with New York outerwear company Schott around customized vintage perfecto jackets, and an array of products by Paris-based accessories designer Stéphanie D’heygere, including tin-can bracelets and razor-blade rings.
For true fanatics of the house, which has often glamorized smoking, there will also be limited-edition resin ashtrays embedded with such artifacts from the couture atelier as embroidered clothing labels, forgotten pins and cigarette butts.
The opportunity to rent archival Gaultier rtw, including looks from the ’80s and ’90s, opens up the designer label to a much broader audience, with prices ranging from about 150 euros for a scarf to 700 euros for a cage-style evening dress.
The service, expected to go live soon, arrives at a time when Millennials and Gen Z are beginning to shun fast fashion in favor of durable basics, and turn to vintage or rentals for more experimental fashion statements.
The initial cache of archival looks for rent include several dresses incorporating the designer’s famous satin cone bra, and a denim outfit for men paved in studs. About 30 items are to become available for rent initially.
“We will renew the offer, depending on the trends, for example if we see certain items in the vintage market trending or inflating,” Gagey explained. “The idea is to renew, to surprise the customer and to give them the opportunity to wear different pieces of Jean Paul Gaultier that they will not be able to buy simply because they don’t exist. These are samples.”
The executive said the intention is to keep the rental service quite exclusive, and not “invade the market. It’s another way for us to explore and be in contact with the whole fan base,” he noted.
The Puig-owned fashion house began meticulously cataloging its archive — repairing, classifying, digitizing and moving clothes and accessories to safe storage — about a year ago, and there is yet more work to do.
Gagey said the new site will launch with about 50 vintage items for sale, sourced via private clients and resellers, with the ultimate goal of becoming the dominant dealer in pre-loved Jean Paul Gaultier. He said discussions are underway with prominent resale marketplaces “about potential ways of collaborating. Why not have help from them? But we want to be running the vintage business.…It’s very strategic for us.”
The executive sited robust interest in vintage Gaultier — and rising resale prices — on such prominent platforms as Vestiaire Collective and Depop, the latter renowned for its young audience.
“I think the vintage market is the number-one barometer to measure the brand equity of Jean Paul Gaultier, in particular for us because our business is restarting,” he said. “We’ve also noticed that some of the products we have dropped in the last couple of months, which were available in very limited quantities…are also being resold on secondary markets, sometimes at 20 times the price we sold a few weeks before on our platform.”
Examples include a tulle dress in sailor stripes, and a T-shirt done in collaboration with edgy rapper Lil Nas X, whom Gagey likened to today’s version of the blockbuster Madonna collaboration of yore.
While digital remains the main distribution vehicle for the revamped house, it plans to work with online and offline wholesalers for specific collection drops.
For instance, the new punk range will be sold at all Dover Street Market locations worldwide, Selfridges in London, Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées in Paris, Voo Store in Berlin and Canadian e-tailer Ssense.com, which also carried the sailor-themed rtw drop.
Gagey cited two main customer bases: More mature, forever fans of the beloved French designer, and a young generation that is now discovering the ground-breaking, inclusive fashions of the founding couturier and eager to buy into accessible product categories, such as jersey, with the new rtw drops.
Exemplifying the house’s goal to tap as wide an audience as possible — in tune with the come-one, come-all ethos pioneered by the founder — one of the logo T-shirts in the punk collection comes in sizes, all the way from two months to 4XL.
Gagey noted the next rtw drop is tentatively scheduled for March, while its second guest couturier, Glenn Martens, is to unveil an haute couture collection in Paris next January.