As a child during the television era, fascinated by movies and variety shows, Jean Paul Gaultier absorbed culture through the lens of the small screen. Fashion interested him only insofar as he could turn it into spectacle. He saw runway shows as happenings, trips to special worlds of his devising, with their own original soundtracks, decors and unusual casting choices. As the co-host of the program Eurotrash, he was the first fashion designer to become a television star. That new status as a media darling coincided with the rise of fashion as a powerful form of expression in an image-obsessed society.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Gaultier borrowed from the realms of science fiction and the emerging sounds of new wave and house music. He stayed ahead of the fashion pack by introducing high-tech materials such as vinyl, lycra and neoprene to prêt-à-porter, and by creating innovative blends, such as neoprene-coated leather, as well as 3-D and even inflatable fabrics! He also brought out his first pieces of electronic jewellery, created by his life partner and associate Francis Menuge.
In a playful attitude, he translated his concern for recycling and the protection of the environment by creating garments out of garbage bags for his High-Tech collection (autumn-winter 1980–1981). Steel wool cleaning pads became necklaces, and aluminum cans turned into bracelets. The tribute to the Russian Constructivist art movement in his autumn-winter 1986 prêt-à-porter collection was more about mixing materials, with its jostle of leather, vinyl, sequins and jersey.
Gaultier's futuristic vision of fashion has also been reflected in his memorable collaborations with stars of the pop and rock world, who wear his designs on stage or in their videos. Many music artists have availed themselves of his talent for setting trends: Tina Turner, Nirvana, Lady Gaga, Les Rita Mitsouko, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Niagara, Neneh Cherry, Depeche Mode, Beyoncé, Yvette Horner, Mylène Farmer, Boy George, Cameo, Kylie Minogue and, of course, Madonna.
Between 1983 and 1993, Jean Paul Gaultier designed the costumes for sixteen of French choreographer Régine Chopinot’s ballets. That long-running artistic association served as a laboratory for the couturier, the structures and materials of his designs suggesting and even imposing certain rhythms and gestures on dancers. As the costume sketches and video excerpts shown here demonstrate, he has continued this exceptional collaboration with the dance world, working with Angelin Preljocaj, Karole Armitage, Maurice Béjart and Joaquìn Cortès. As for the costumes he has designed for the big screen—for Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children), Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover), Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) and, especially, Pedro Almodóvar (Kika, Bad Education, The Skin I Live In) — they sustain the dramatic intensity of the films involved, while at the same time remain true to his own creative vocabulary.