Jean Paul Gaultier is a rare type of designer. On par with Tom Ford, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin and Karl Lagerfeld, the French style auteur—known for his nautical striped sweaters and bleach-blonde crewcut—is the kind of designer who has helped shape the way we see fashion, culture and society. In a nutshell, he’s known for bringing underwear to the forefront of fashion (fittingly, he made a name for himself outfitting Madonna for her statement making Blonde Ambition tour in the ’90s, rife with boned corsets and yes, the cone bra). But shockingly, the designer recently quit designing women’s ready-to-wear. Today, he explained why:
“Too many clothes kills clothes … Fashion has changed,” the 62-year old Gaultier told the AP. “A proliferation of clothing. Eight collections per season —that’s 16 a year…The system doesn’t work … There aren’t enough people to buy them. We’re making clothes that aren’t destined to be worn.” Gaultier has been designing both rte and couture for nearly 38 years. He had a short stint as a women’s wear designer for Hermes and launched clothing for the heritage French accessories house.
It’s a surprisingly candid explanation, which some designers have spoken out about in recent years. Elbaz, artistic director of Lanvin told Vogue UK in 2011 that there is too much pressure on designers. “I don’t understand this marathon of fashion,” Elbaz famously said. “Today, designers are expected to produce work that is bigger, better, faster and—these days—cheaper. A singer can quit once he or she has made ten great songs, a director can finish once he or she has made five amazing films, a writer just needs to write three great books. Now let’s look at designers—they produce six to eight shows a year, most designers have a 20-year-long career, so I need to create about 250 collections in that time. Not even Danielle Steel could write 250 books.”
Gaultier has been promoting the final leg of his retrospective tour, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk”. The exhibit has had over 1.5 million visitors and runs in Paris until August 3. The location of the Paris exhibit is a personal one for Gaultier, who showed his first collection in the same location in 1976. The retrospective displays some of the scandalous and paradigm-breaking collections including his Garbage dress, looks from his Hasidic collection and pinup looks.
Now that he’s not designing clothes, Gaultier will continue to work on his namesake fragrances and special projects.