Jean Paul Gaultier: The designer’s most unforgettable couture looks

Jean Paul Gaultier: These couture looks are unforgettable

Jean Paul Gaultier is one of the best fashion designers of the last two decades. His extravagant designs often break with existing conventions and gender roles, few designers have influenced the fashion world as much as he has. He can now look back on a long and impressive career.

Gaultier Paris Autumn 2002 Couture

Photo: Shoot Digital for

In 2020, Jean Paul Gaultier said goodbye to fashion in his namesake as he unveiled his latest haute couture collection. As a result, Instagram was flooded with memories of Gaultier’s career. Gaultier, who trained with Pierre Cardin, began making dresses under his own name in 1982; his couture debut took place in the spring of 1997. The dresses he introduced at the time were crucial to what was to follow over the next 24 years and more than 40 couture collections.

Gaultier Paris Couture Spring 2000

Photo: Conde Nast Archive

Jean Paul Gaultier: That’s what makes him so unmistakable

Gaultier not only has a distinctive personal style, but also a well-defined design aesthetic, both of which overlap. The designer’s recurring use of stripes and checkers pays homage to his former uniform of Breton sweater, kilt and combat boots. Over the years, Gaultier has interpreted the stripes of the sailor shirt in countless ways. Most memorable was a dress that went from a knit top to a marabou stitch in the spring of 2000. Feathers, crafted in intricate patterns as if they were made of fabric, or simply hovered, are among Gaultier’s favorite materials. He knows leather (he was at Hermès after all), but even in couture he always returns to a simpler fabric: denim. Haute jeans can be taken for granted today, but that was far from the case when Gaultier first began introducing them.

Jean Paul Gaultier stands for gender fluidity

Perhaps more than any other designer, Gaultier has woven a down-to-earth feeling into couture, both in terms of materials and silhouettes (parkas, ski jerseys and so on). While the stunning dresses for women and men are full of imagination (he was an early supporter of gender fluidity), there are usually more down-to-earth options, like a sharply cut suit or the perfect little black dress, not to mention the occasional blink.

Gaultier Paris couture collections have always been declarations of love for the French capital, no matter how distant the references are. Yes, the Eiffel Tower has more dresses, but the designer’s deeper commitment is with the craftsmanship that has emerged in the city. He also drew on Gallic tropes, such as trench coats and tuxedos à la Yves Saint Laurent.

Gaultier also borrowed colors and silhouettes from the long history of clothing and from French painters such as Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Influences like Folies Bergère are less pompous, but cheerful. When he was not designing for an Amazon – his wife is always strong – he thought of the coquette. Garters, corsets and cone bras (hey, Madonna) have all been given an extra couture treatment.

Gaultier Paris Couture spring 2019

Photo: Filippo Fior /

Gaultier Paris Couture Fall 2019

Photo: Filippo Fior /

Why the cool girls love Jean Paul Gaultier

After being rediscovered by a new generation (especially the Kardashians, Bella Hadid, Miley Cyrus), Gaultier has revisited designs and motifs like the nude dress and his techno dots in recent years. He was also recruited to work with Supreme in 2019. When Vogue retold the story of Alice in Wonderland in 2003, Gaultier was cast as Cheshire Cat. Given the designer’s sense of fun, it was an excellent choice.

As the designer says goodbye to the catwalks in 2020, it’s comforting to know that Gaultier’s cheerful approach to fashion, like Lewis Carroll’s seductive being, remains present in his absence. In other words: it Enfant awful stays in the picture. Here we celebrate the designer’s achievements with a look back at 30 of his most memorable couture looks.

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