jean-paul goude talks kenzo, grace jones, and the power of graphics

During a lunch break on the Kenzo x H&M campaign shoot, we sit down with one of the world’s most provocative image makers and art directors to talk about his illustrious career.

by Lynette Nylander
13 September 2016, 7:55pm

During his four-decade career, few have been able to challenge Jean-Paul Goude's legacy as an art director, photographer, illustrator, advertising film director, and cultural provocateur. Born in Saint-Mandé, in the eastern suburbs of Paris, in 1940, to an American dancer mother — who instilled in him a love of rhythm — Goude started off his career at Esquire magazine. Later, with his then-partner Grace Jones, he dominated the music and visual culture of the 80s, with iconic images such as 1979's Constructivist Maternity Dress and the cover of Grace's 1985 compilation Island Life.

Etched into public consciousness, Goude's influence has permeated through to the fashion industry. Chanel, Prada, and Azzedine Alaïa have all come to Goude for his singular vision, and his talent for creating sexual, surrealist images that even the most cavernous creative minds couldn't imagine. Then, in 2014, after being the tastemakers' creative of choice for years, a Paper magazine cover featuring one greased-up bare-bottomed Kim Kardashian broke the internet and made Jean-Paul Goude's name familiar to millions. The cover, for which Kim posed as an updated version of Goude's 1976 image of Carolina Beaumont, showcased his stylistic approach to a brand-new generation.

Bridging generations has always come naturally to Kenzo's creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim. Both longtime fans of Goude, they felt he was the perfect conduit through which to tell the story of the brand's upcoming collaboration with H&M. The clothes' vivid colors and jungle patterns were also evocative of some of his work in the 80s.

"I became an art director by accident," Goude reminisces as we settle into a sofa. He's taking a break from shooting one of the Kenzo x H&M campaign faces, actress Rosario Dawson, and begins to discuss the start of his career. "From my early childhood, on to my teens and as the result, I'm sure, of my artistic mother's influence, I had a very romantic vision of myself as a bonafide artist. Yet, as time went on, the pressure to make a living became such that I had to focus on whatever skill I had and go to work right away. I could do two things: dance a little and draw pictures. My favorite artist was Gruau, the famous fashion illustrator. Meanwhile, I was lucky enough to be discovered by the artistic director of Le Printemps department store in Paris and became a professional illustrator. After two or three successful years, but much too many mediocre ads, my work had lost his freshness and my career ended as quickly as it had started. I was only 24 years old."

Chance the Rapper. Illustration by Jean-Paul Goude.

His breakthrough moment came courtesy of then Esquire editor Harold Hayes. "I had been sending things of mine to Esquire, in the hope that they would publish my work. Ironically, Harold didn't call me for my pictures, he called me because he wanted to meet [the poet] Jacques Prévert, who I happened to know. That's how I got to know Harold Hayes, who became my mentor after bringing me over to New York."

Inexperienced in magazines, Jean-Paul approached the heritage men's title with a new perspective, but after a year realized his talents might be best used outside the confines of an office. "You know the saying "familiarity breeds contempt" — that's what was happening. In other words, if you are at the office everyday, people will take you for granted," Goude explains. "I realized that I would be much more precious to the magazine if I was outside looking in and I became the magazine's contributing art editor. I worked for five or six years with Harold, who was one of the greatest magazine editors of his time, if not the best. Through him, I got to meet and work with extraordinary people like George Lois, the advertising genius who had been another idol of mine since art school."

As a Frenchman living in New York, Jean-Paul became consumed with African-American culture, "the music, the beauty of the people…" His ushering into fashion photography came after he got romantically involved with Toukie Smith, the sister of 80s it-designer Willi Smith, whose African looks contradicted the blonde-hair, blue-eyed norm of beauty. "I wanted to show the world my conception of beauty!" He then met Grace Jones in disco's heyday in Manhattan. The times were decadent and Jean-Paul saw Grace as a star in the making. "I was really obsessed by turning her into a legendary entertainer. Her beauty was raw, radical, and I was completely infatuated with her." The two became lovers and embarked on carefully crafting her eccentric public persona, collaborating on everything from her live shows to music videos and album covers. Just some of the images that cemented the duo as one of the foremost creative partnerships in history: Grace's portrait, cigarette hanging from her mouth, on 81's Nightclubbing cover. The Slave to the Rhythm cover, made from a cut-and-tape collage of a photographic transparency. And Grace's Island Life cover, which regally depicts her as an artful statue in a seemingly impossible pre-Photoshop arabesque.

Chloë Sevigny. Illustration by Jean-Paul Goude.

After their relationship ended, Jean-Paul concentrated on his work with brands, making some of the 80s' and 90s' most interesting campaign material for Citroën, Kodak, Perrier, and Chanel. "I actually almost worked with Kenzo Takada!" he laughs. "He had a project for me when I was still on tour with Grace. He had seen the shows and thought we could work together. We got along very well but the project was canceled. What a twist of fate that H&M, Humberto, and Carol should have asked me 20 years later to do this project." On why the collaboration appealed to him, Jean Paul says, "I am very selective with what I take on. To me every project is a challenge and I give it my best. Carol and Humberto's enthusiasm was extremely inspiring and it has been lots of fun being rediscovered by the next generation." Humberto and Carol are just as amorous commenting, "We love to work with our idols, and Jean-Paul Goude is a true icon. His images for Kenzo x H&M are incredible, and capture the personality, positivity, and freedom of the collection."

For the campaign, he's turned his lens to a number of inspirational models such as supermodel Iman, environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, rappers Chance the Rapper and Suboi, and actors Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, as well as classical musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. Leon and Lim selected each star because of their individual approach to their craft. Since the creative thinking for the campaign was based on Jean-Paul's very own cut-and-tape technique, he went to work with renewed enthusiasm. "It's the first time I've done that kind of imagery for advertising on such a scale, and I must admit having been agreeably surprised at the way it turned out. Besides showing beautiful clothes and featuring glamorous celebrities, this campaign is about the power of graphics. I feel good about it. I feel like myself!"

Iman. Illustration by Jean-Paul Goude.


Text Lynette Nylander

Jean Paul Goude
fashion interviews
kenzo x k&m
jean paul goode