National Gallery of Victoria National Gallery of Victoria

17 Oct 2014 — 8 Feb 2015


Non-conformist designer seeks unusual models – the conventionally beautiful need not apply.
─Advert placed by Jean Paul Gaultier in the French daily newspaper Libération

From his early days as a designer, Jean Paul Gaultier was inspired by unusual models, and didn’t follow industry trends for typical model looks. He held open casting calls for his catwalk models, being drawn to those who were not conventionally ‘beautiful’. Many of his early muses have remained important influences, including Farida Khelfa, who became the first top model with a North African background after starting her career with Gaultier in 1979.

In opposition to the fashion catwalk and advertising status quo of using tall, blonde and ethereal looking models, Gaultier deliberately selects models of all races, ages, genders and body shapes, including choosing those who were bald, tattooed, and pierced, decades before it became mainstream. He is drawn to difference:

Perfection is relative and beauty is subjective. I wanted to make imperfection admirable… Sometimes a different energy and bearing, or an unusual type of body catches my eye and makes me want to invent something. With both haute couture and prêt-à-porter, I’ve always tried to create collections that could speak to all kinds of men and women of different ages and style.

Gaultier was the first to work with androgynous models Teri Toye and Andrej Pejić, with the latter appearing as both male and female on the catwalk. Andrej has now undergone sexual reassignment surgery and is now legally named Andreja. He has cast lead singer of the American group Gossip, Beth Ditto, on his catwalk and has been particularly drawn to Australian models, actresses and performers including Alexandra Agoston, Nicole Kidman, Kylie Minogue, Catherine McNeil and Gemma Ward.

Gaultier’s universal values go beyond the established etiquette of the fashion world. The strong social message found in his designs, catwalk shows and advertising campaigns champions fashion as a form of expression, inclusivity and a celebration of diversity.