National Gallery of Victoria National Gallery of Victoria

17 Oct 2014 — 8 Feb 2015


Jean Paul Gaultier was born in 1952 in Arcueil, a suburb of Paris. As a teenager, he made sketches of two collections a year, taking his inspiration from fashion magazines, films from the interwar period, and 1960s television programs like Dim, Dam, Dom that covered fashion. His maternal grandmother owned a television, uncommon in France at that time, and let her grandson watch whatever he liked. He developed a critical and analytical sense of fashion, as well as his own design vocabulary. Fascinated by unusual Parisiennes, Jean Paul Gaultier created a new look and favoured unconventional types of beauty:

As a child, my attention was always drawn by those women who didn't look like everyone else . . .

Self-taught, as of 1970 he discovered the tradition and skills of haute couture through stints at Pierre Cardin and Jean Patou. Part of a new generation of fashion designers, he went out on his own, starting with women’s prêt-à-porter in 1976, then with men’s in 1983. Twenty years later, Jean Paul Gaultier kept the flag of Parisian elegance flying high by opening his own couture house, from then on showing two collections a year. From 2004 until 2010, in addition to producing four collections for his prêt-à-porter lines annually, he designed two others for Hermès.

Regulated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, haute couture is shown exclusively in Paris. Couture houses must comply with specific requirements regarding how garments are made, presented and sold. Unlike industrially produced prêt-à-porter, couture is a fine craft whose one-of-a-kind objects are the product of exceptional technical virtuosity. Creating certain designs sometimes necessitates hundreds of hours of work. Everything involved in a couture garment—from embroidery and lace to accessories and the final finishing touches—must be entirely accomplished by hand. Even though it receives a great deal of media attention, rarely is the general public afforded a direct experience of haute couture.