In a new interview -- ostensibly about his latest fragrance, but lead more by it's name, Scandal -- Jean Paul Gaultier has let rip on the behind-the-scenes workings of contemporary ready-to-wear fashion. Asked by WWD about what he finds provocative in fashion today, the original enfant terrible of Paris fashion ("You know I'm 65?" he says, rejecting the label) explains that it isn't "all the things that try to be provocative -- more and more transparency, more and more extravagance," but instead the way money is thrown around, and the deals with celebrities that consumers don't see.
"What I think can be provocative is money. Like the amount of money that is [used] for some shows, the fortunes that are spent for what? For, like, the set, for one moment," he says, referencing the elaborate stage sets used each season at most of the major fashion houses. "In some ways that is provocative, because we are in a moment of social crisis, we are at a time when people don't buy so many clothes. Or they're given them or it's contractual, or they buy some that are not at all expensive," he adds, hinting at the contracts brands draw up with celebrities, and other 'influencers', and also acknowledging the fact that very few of the clothes we see on catwalks ever actually go into production (brands generally make the bulk of their money selling leather goods and fragrances).
Though he says he makes no judgement about brands paying celebrities to wear their clothes, he speaks of being flattered by celebrities choosing to buy his clothes in the 80s and 90s, adding, "I went into the profession to be loved through my clothes. So in some way if I have to pay people to wear my clothes, it's like I was paying a prostitute".
"Money is being used for a kind of promotion, but there are so many people making promotions. There are so many different outfits for so few people buying them. That is the real provocation," Jean Paul says, laughing. He later adds: "I think we are at a time when clothes are not to be worn. They are only to promote a brand. Now, more than ever, all of the big shows I think are only to make a kind of advertising."
"I stopped my ready-to-wear because I think we are more in a marketing world now," the designer continues. "Today there are big groups occupying all the space," he says of the conglomerates that own multiple fashion houses. "I feel there's less freedom. At the time when I started, it was not money directing everything. It was more one's capacity."
Now, Jean Paul Gaultier only produces couture, the most labour-intensive and expensive form of fashion. It can seem like a fantasy, but in some ways it is more real than ready-to-wear, he suggests. "Fundamentally, it's about truly dressing somebody -- one client that exists -- and not only about a show. So in some way it's a reality."
Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Christian Badger [The Portrait Issue, no. 217, February 2002]