On Wednesday, Jean Paul Gaultier returned to the house he founded — only this time, he was there as a front-row guest.
After he retired in January 2020, the brand said it would keep its haute couture business going with a revolving cast of guest designers. The first of these, Sacai creative director Chitose Abe, was meant to unveil her collection a year ago, but the show was postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s very strange. It’s going to be a new sensation for me, in this building I know so well. This is a part of it that I don’t know: sitting in the audience watching a show. I’m usually backstage, and I’m made to be backstage, so it’s going to be both very surprising and very moving for me,” Gaultier confided before the show.
“I’m sure it will be absolutely gorgeous. I’ve seen a couple of things, but I gave her complete freedom. I didn’t want to see any of the finished looks,” he added.
Backstage, a dresser laced a male model into towering pink satin boots designed by Pierre Hardy, while other models slipped on the second-skin bodysuits, featuring a print by Los Angeles-based tattoo artist Dr. Woo, that underpinned many of the looks.
While relieved that the collection is finally seeing the light of day, Abe said she was actually pleased to have extra time to work on it. “It’s a blessing in disguise in some ways,” the Japanese designer said via a translator. “I’m really very happy with the results. I wanted the collection to be a real synergy between the two brands.”
She brought her signature hybrid construction techniques to Gaultier staples including corsets, pinstriped suits and sailor tops, which were spliced with her trademark MA-1 pilot flight jacket and cable-knit sweaters.
“In fact, I didn’t even have to look in the archives. I had in my mind the outfits I wanted to reference: something that Björk wore, the plaid — I had all these ideas,” she said. The Björk reference goes back to 1994, when the Icelandic singer walked the Gaultier runway in a Tibetan-inspired outfit.
Abe “remixed” the look to create an oversized jacket trimmed with faux fur and embroidered with stylized JPG initials, which was titled “I Love New Björk,” in a continuation of the house’s tradition of giving each look a pun-filled name.
She played with lengths and layers, adding a gauzy oversized chemise under a pinstriped suit, and transforming a trenchcoat into a tent-like asymmetric bustier gown. A black cashmere track suit, embroidered with the Dr. Woo motif, was obscured by layers of black tulle.
Some of the silhouettes seemed purely experimental, such as a bulbous green bomber jacket topping a similarly poufy skirt, resembling two scoops of pistachio ice cream. Others hinted at cosplay, especially the military jackets and hoop skirts.
Abe referenced Gaultier’s tradition of upcycling, with a coat and dress featuring an entire rack’s worth of old Levi’s jeans pinned to the back, and made blue overalls chic enough to wear after dark, with her blue satin hybrid jumpsuit and dress, incorporating a corset top.
Plays on lingerie and tailoring produced some of the strongest looks, including a corset dress with a trenchcoat skirt with deep folds, and a deconstructed pinstriped jacket with a single, articulated sleeve worn over a billowing white organdy shirtdress.
The playful lineup — set to Gaultier’s 1989 novelty house track “How to Do That” — underlined the strength of the house’s codes, which it is counting on to rally historic customers behind the collection. This freestyle remix will likely appeal to fashion-forward types keen to secure a one-of-a-kind collectible — though whether they will wear it or store it remains to be seen.
A beaming Gaultier jumped up and joined Abe on the runway as she took her bow, wearing a T-shirt that said “Enfants terribles” — a reference to the expression that dogged Gaultier well into his 60s. “There’s basically two enfants terribles this year, so that’s why it’s plural,” she said with a smile.