L’Enfant Terrible of fashion, Jean Paul Gaultier, cannot stop raving about his love for all things British – from the punks to the humour, to the city’s vibrant club scenes and legendary musicians.
Which is timely, since an exhibition celebrating his life and works has just opened in London.
“I am very emotional to be here,“ he says in a strong French accent, wildly gesticulating with his hands.
“I always love to come to London, it’s a place that represents something. The English were the first ones to come to my shows and appreciate my fashion.
“Your food has not got the best reputation, but I like the spirit, the humour and eccentricity of the people here.
“It is a place of inspiration and my work features a lot of the city – so I suppose, in some ways, this exhibition is an homage to London itself.“ According to Gaultier, his love affair with England began back in the 1970s, when he made his first visit to London, and was struck by the creativity of the original Rocky Horror Show, the club scene and the punk movement.
“The streets of London were, maybe, my first muse. To come to London was like vitamin D for me, like sun and free spirit. In the London clubs they’re there to dance, in Paris, they’re there to pose, there’s such freedom.
“But it was the rebellion in the clothes, I was feeling the freedom of expression totally, and the eccentricity that was accepted,“ he says, excitedly. “I saw it in the streets, the rock scene, the rock stars – David Bowie, the concerts, the energy, the character, all the people that are different, assuming their own beauty and character.
“In France, if you are dressed in some different way than the classical code, you are looked at as Mr Nobody, like a freak. Here, it is not the case.“ The trip had a huge impact on his style, giving birth to a provocative fashion aesthetic that would later take the world by storm, injecting a healthy dose of street sassiness into the exclusive world of couture gowns.
What has followed has been a much celebrated career, the results of which are on display for the first time in the exhibition: The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.
Designed as an installation rather than a conventional fashion retrospective, this theatrically staged show comprises 165 of his over-the-top creations, such as men’s skirts and Madonna’s conical bras.
Gaultier has always embraced the different, preferring tattooed, bald, curvy and androgynous models to super-skinny blondes.
At the beginning of his career he posted a newspaper ad that read: ‘Non-conformist designer seeks unusual models – the conventionally pretty need not apply’.
Even today, at 61, rather than focus on using the traditionally beautiful, which populate magazine covers and catwalks, he declares it is important for him to have “lively personalities, lively people” as his muses.
Reflecting on the exhibition he jokes: “Usually when you exhibit, it is because you are dead. But showing my work here is a beautiful thing for me, I’ve got so many connections with London, I feel at home here, even sometimes more than Paris. I am proud to show you all my love for your country.“
See our review of the show here
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, The Barbican, Silk Street, until August 25. barbican.org.uk