the life and work of jean paul goude

In a lunch break in between shooting the Kenzo x H&M campaign, we sit down with one of the world’s most provocative image makers and art directors about his illustrious career.

by Lynette Nylander
12 September 2016, 10:25am

In a career spanning four decades, 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, France in 1940 to an American dancer mother who instilled in him a love of rhythm; he started off his career at Esquire magazine, after meeting its editor he has gone on to leave an indelible mark on the world of iconography. Via his muse Grace Jones, the then-couple dominated 80s musical and visual culture through iconic images such as 1979's Constructivist Maternity Dress and 85's cover of Grace's compilation, Island Life. Etched into public consciousness, his influence has permeated through to the fashion industry. The likes of Chanel, Prada and Azzedine Alaia came flocking to Goude for his singular vision, and his talent for creating sexual, surrealist images that even the most cavernous creative minds couldn't imagine. After being the tastemakers creative of choice for years, a Paper magazine cover featuring one greased-up bare-bottomed Kim Kardashian as his 1976 updated version of Carolina Beaumont in New York, broke the internet and made Jean Paul Goude's name familiar with millions, showcasing his stylistic approach to a brand new generation. Marrying older and newer generations has always been something that has come naturally to Kenzo's creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim. Both longtime fans of Jean Paul Goude, they felt him the perfect conduit to tell the story of the brand's upcoming collaboration with H&M; the vivid colours and jungle patterns evocative of some of his work in the 80s.

"I became an art director by accident", he reminisces as we settle into a sofa in between shooting one of the 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 2 or 3 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 realised 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. I realised 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 5 or 6 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, he explains.

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. Grace's portrait complete with cigarette artfully hanging from her mouth on 81's Nightclubbing cover, 85's Slave to the Rhythm cover made from a cut and tape collage of a photographic transparency and Grace's Island Life cover that regally depicts her as an artful statue in an impossible pre-photoshop arabesque pose, and cemented the duo as one of the foremost creative collaborators in history.

Chloe 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 Citroen, 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 cancelled. 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 explains, "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 Chloe Sevigny and the aforementioned Rosario Dawson as well as classical musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, all chosen by Kenzo's creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim for the 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