He has entertained crowds for nearly four decades. He played a major role in turning some fashion traditions on their head and legitimizing the influence of the street on designer ready-to-wear. He made sailor stripes a wardrobe staple, and gave fashion cred to Madonna’s cone bras (and bare breasts, which made one notorious appearance on his runway). In between those years, there were plenty of great clothes and campy adventures, the latter trumping the former in recent years.
On Saturday night, the designer showed his final women’s ready-to-wear collection after deciding to focus on his haute couture and perfume businesses as well as special projects.
“For some time, I have found true fulfillment in working on the haute couture and it allows me to express my creativity and my taste for research and experimentation,” he expressed to WWD earlier this month. “At the same time, the world of ready-to-wear has evolved considerably. Commercial constraints, as well as the frenetic pace of collections, don’t leave any freedom or the necessary time to find fresh ideas and to innovate.”
Saturday’s over-the-top spectacle was a fitting sendoff. Pegged as the “Miss Jean Paul Gaultier” beauty contest, the invite was a beauty queen sash in the colors of the French flag.
The scene at the Grand Rex, a large throwback of a theater, felt a lot like a movie premiere gone wild. Gawking fans blocked entry to the venue; inside, photographers were screaming at arriving celebrities, while camera crews swept through, frantically combing the lobby for interviews. Many of Paris’s star designers filed in while Gaultier groupies coursed through the crowd.
“Jean Paul was one of the people that made me want to be a fashion designer and I want to give back a little bit of that love,” said Jeremy Scott, wearing a Barbie-pink fur coat. “I wanted to be here for this because it was such a momentous occasion and I wanted just to show that I still love him, even if I’m not 14 years old anymore.”
At one point during the 45-minute wait, Farida Khelfa, former head of Gaultier couture, fastened her blue-white-red sash around her waist to the delight of the frenzied shutterbugs. Stefano Tonchi tied his around the head.
Other designers and friends also came out to show their respect, among them Pierre Cardin, Alber Elbaz, Alexander Wang, Walter Van Beirendonck, Gareth Pugh, Jean-Paul Goude and Nathalie Rykiel, as well as Catherine Deneuve and a handful of local celebrities.
“I just think he is doing something fun and radical now,” said Rick Owens, lauding “the idea that he is throwing away the cake and keeping the icing.”
It was quite a buildup, which one has almost come to expect of Gaultier, especially of this final rtw collection.
The first reveal: dancing models posed on the stage’s large staircase in variations of the sailor-stripe T-shirt, some deconstructed, others with fringe and corset detailing, for example.
Journalist Alex Taylor and Almodovar/Gaultier muse Rossy de Palma then introduced the collection with a theatrical shtick, before a variety show organized by distinct archetypes, such as “Miss Hommage a Madame de Palmay,” a clear reference to Genevieve de Fontenay who ran the Miss France contest for years; “Miss Tour de France,” which explored logos; “Miss Meteo” for rainier days, and “Miss Smoking.”
The collection was naturally all over the map, from pinstripe tailoring and Logomania to metallic looks — united by Gaultier’s playful, irreverent touch.
At one point, de Palma turned her prominent nose up at the models’ performance — “C’est pas comme ça,” she shrieked — then demonstratively stripped off her ensemble to sashay down the runway in a daring, if dangerous, corset.
Making a statement for ageless beauty, one group was devoted to older models. But the “Miss Redactrice de Mode” was perhaps the most popular — this crowd loves a good insider reference. Gaultier had models mimic Babeth Djian, Franca Sozzani, Emmanuelle Alt, Carine Roitfeld, Suzy Menkes and Grace Coddington, replete with clothes in the style of these editors as well as their unmistakable hairdos.
As for the “contest” finale, it came down to Anna Cleveland and Coco Rocha, both in bustier tops with a new, pointier version of cone bra. Rocha won, but when she “fainted” from excitement, both models were crowned (“Why didn’t I win?” French Vogue’s Alt chided JPG later).
It was vampy, campy, theatrical and very Gaultier. Post-show, the designer displayed no sadness, just jubilation. Smeared with lipstick, he emerged from behind the velvet curtain onto the stage and was swarmed by well-wishers. He said this was a good practice run for his upcoming stint as president of the jury of the actual Miss France contest. “It was great,” Gaultier beamed.
Reflecting on Gaultier’s bold move to leave ready-to-wear behind, Alber Elbaz summed up the sentiment in the room: “It’s maybe sad for fashion, but maybe it’s happy for him. So if it’s happy for him, we go for it!”