Olivier Rousteing nailed his stint as guest couturier at Jean Paul Gaultier, capturing the sense of fun and irreverence of the founder’s rollicking shows, exalting the capabilities of the atelier, and ticking off all the reasons the founder is a national treasure in France — and a guiding light for generations of designers.
Rousteing even started an hour late, stacked his soundtrack with cheesy French pop music, and came bounding out for his bow in sailor stripes and a kilt like you-know-who.
The audience lapped it up, cheering every cone bra, pinstripe and tattoo print — including Monsieur Gaultier himself, who beamed from the front row, clapping furiously whenever an exit particularly pleased him, which was often.
Rousteing, who has spent most of his young career revving up Balmain, did not leave himself out of the equation, grounding many looks with the Frankenstein boots he’s currently mad for; winking to his 2020 burn accident with a bandage-like take on a marinière, and demonstrating his social-media savvy with his clever casting and viral outfits — like the glass perfume-bottle corsets — that had every phone in the room filming.
A vocal campaigner for more diversity and inclusivity in the industry — and like Gaultier, a champion of female empowerment — Rousteing also found a way to make a sly political comment, sending out two models side-by-side in molded leather corsets with pregnancy bumps.
Backstage, the designer remarked on how Madonna, a key inspiration for this one-off collection, strolled down the runway with her breasts exposed in a racy Gaultier outfit at a 1992 amfAR fashion show — something impossible today. “He was ahead of his time talking about freedom of expression,” he marveled. Rousteing reprised those harness-like looks, but inserted flesh toned cups for modesty’s sake.
Haute couture has long been viewed as an extravagant, loss-leading exercise to sell perfume, and executives from Spain’s Puig group, Gaultier’s owner, must have been tingling at the sight of all the brand codes of Le Male and Classique scents, the tin-can packaging worked into boots, skirts, belts and minaudières.
But there were plenty of beautiful clothes here for clients and collectors alike, plus a bonus capsule of ready-to-wear that opened the show, a reprisal of Gaultier’s groundbreaking spring 1994 show dedicated to tattoos and other forms of body art.
Rousteing’s guest-design stint — he followed Sacai’s Chitose Abe and Y/Project’s Glenn Martens — was a love letter to a fashion legend written with sincerity, humility and originality. The display climaxed with Kristen McMenamy tottering out in a white T-shirt transformed into a bustier gown with a long train. She delivered a long-stem red-rose to Monsieur Gaultier and kissed him on both cheeks.