Jean Paul Gaultier brought down the Théâtre du Châtelet on Wednesday with a swansong haute couture show that was like a kaleidoscope of his 50-year career.
For more than an hour, models, friends and muses flooded the stage in more than 230 outfits made out of recycled old collections. There were sailor tops, corsets, tuxedos and trompe-l’oeil creations — all the signatures of the man known as the “enfant terrible” of French fashion, who is retiring from the runway at the age of 67.
Known for his catwalk shows merging fashion and guest performers, Gaultier was the city’s greatest showman since Thierry Mugler, breaking down gender barriers and helping to launch some of the industry’s biggest models.
His all-star cast included Erin O’Connor, Coco Rocha, Jade Parfitt, Karlie Kloss, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Jourdan Dunn, Lily McMenamy, Karen Elson, Anna Cleveland, Estelle Lefébure, Noémie Lenoir, Winnie Harlow and even Farida Khelfa, his former muse and couture director.
But the biggest cheers came for Tanel Bedrossiantz, the man who has epitomized Gaultier’s brand of runway camp for decades. He did not disappoint, walking in a leather jacket with a huge rooster sprouting from one shoulder, in a section the program notes billed as “French Accent (Show Me Your Coq).”
Joining him were performers including Boy George, Dita Von Teese, Rossy de Palma, Paris Jackson, Béatrice Dalle, Fanny Ardant, Catherine Ringer, Mylène Farmer, Amanda Lear and Antoine de Caunes, who presented the cult television program “Eurotrash” with Gaultier in the Nineties.
Dotted among the audience were fellow designers Pierre Cardin, Nicolas Ghesquière, Christian Lacroix, Christian Louboutin, Dries Van Noten, Clare Waight Keller, Isabel Marant and Julie de Libran, alongside a who’s who of French entertainment.
Gaultier opened the show with the funeral scene from William Klein’s cult 1966 fashion film “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?” The curtain lifted on a group of chic mourners striking a pose on a grand white staircase lifted straight out of a Hollywood musical, as Boy George sang the Amy Winehouse song “Back to Black.”
In typical Gaultier style, it was a mock funeral — the coffin sporting two oversize conical breasts, in a nod to the cone bra he launched in early Eighties, famously adopted by Madonna on her “Blonde Ambition” tour in the Nineties.
Sure enough, the soundtrack soon switched to the couturier’s 1988 dance single “How to Do That,” as models emerged in dresses pieced together from gloves, ties, shirts and needlepoint hoops — a fitting move for a man who once showed tin cans as jewelry on the runway.
Speaking backstage after the show, where he was swarmed by well-wishers, Gaultier said he initially planned to show only a portion of upcycled outfits — and then it became the whole show.
“I was thinking there are too many clothes, so maybe recycle it. Rather than burning them, or something like that, you can make something else. It’s part of my education because of flea markets, things like that. So for me it was an adventure and I was in reality very excited to see what I should do,” he explained.
“There were maybe 50 looks that were completely new, and the rest was a mix of ready-to-wear, things that I bought in China,” added the designer, who halted his rtw business in 2014.
Gaultier was on creative full throttle, sending out male, female and transgender models in his-and-hers tuxedos, tricolor French flags, shredded jeans, camouflage capes, taffeta boiler suits and chiffon dresses with exotic accents.
Outfits woven and pieced together from silk scarves nodded to his tenure as artistic director of women’s rtw at Hermès from 2003 to 2010.
Highlights included Von Teese in a nude satin belted corset; de Palma in a short black bustier dress and mantilla; Gigi Hadid in a barely there sailor top and pleated white pants, and Dalle in a black négligé and satin pants, dropping a cigarette on the catwalk in the French equivalent of a mic drop.
Rocha dusted off her Irish dancing moves and cantered down the runway in a tartan outfit to the sound of Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch” as the audience went wild. Pandemonia, the human blow-up doll character created by a British artist, briefly eclipsed Bella Hadid.
With each exit, the crowd erupted into whoops and hollers, rising to their feet as one as Gaultier emerged to take his final bow. With Boy George leading the sprawling cast in song, a group of male models hoisted Gaultier in the air. Choreographer Bianca Li added her muscle, and reached up to kiss his cheek.
As the curtain came down, models, celebrities, editors and staff shared tearful hugs, but the ever-cheerful designer seemed elated.
“I feel very happy and emotional, but it’s nice,” he said. “There were a lot of old models that I had, that I love, that came specially for the show. To reunite with them brought up a lot of memories, but at the same time, we were making a new show, a new creation.
“So for me it was a pleasure to make a party of it, and even though I tried to structure the show very well, today it was as much of a mess as it was in my first collection. It was terrible, terrible — not exactly what was supposed to happen, happened, but it doesn’t matter, it’s part of life, no? In life you have to be a chameleon,” he said with a smile.
“I can tell that you’re happy — it shows,” said Lacroix, whose couture house shuttered in 2009, as the two men warmly embraced. Van Noten was more reserved, but nonetheless came with a heartfelt message. “You were my idol when I was a student and you’re still my idol. Thanks for everything you did for fashion,” he said.
Gaultier said that while his runway days were over, he wasn’t ready to hang up his scissors completely. He is taking his “Fashion Freak Show” cabaret show to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and plans to keep alive the Gaultier Paris label with a new concept, which one source suggested could involve guest designers.
“I cannot stop to do fashion, of course, so I will do some other things,” Gaultier teased. “And you know, couture is not dead. That wasn’t my message. The funeral was funny, and with a new creation, so it is not dead at all.”
Still, it felt like the end of an era. Au revoir, Jean Paul, and thanks for the memories.
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