Oct 14, 2009 12:00AM

Sex and Sensibility: Jean Paul Gaultier

Sailors, salaciousness and space aliens are just some of the territories traversed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Once the enfant terrible of French fashion design, the sexual revolutionary is now an icon in his own right. Alyx Gorman writes.

"The cinema inspired me to become a couturier," Jean-Paul Gaultier informs Oyster, misty eyed. "I owe it everything." The fashion designer has been working steadily for almost forty years now, creating work that is sometimes shocking, and always stunning. "When I was nine or ten I saw Falbalas, the film from the forties by Jacques Becker with Micheline Presle. The film was based on the atelier of Marcel Rochas and it portrayed 'maison de couture'. It was like a magic world had opened before me." Less than ten years later, at the age of 18, Gaultier was to enter this world, working for Pierre Cardin's couture house where he happily discovered "that the portrait Becker has painted of this universe was very true." Gaultier stayed with Pierre Cardin, as well as working on and off with Jacques Esterel and Jean Patou, for the next six years. In 1976, the designer struck out alone, releasing his first individual collection. Now, 33 years on, he offered us a presentation that showed his roots.

Gaultier's latest Haute Couture collection was pure movie magic. Silver screen sirens, sometimes wrapped, quite literally, in silver screens stomped the runway. Silhouettes spoke of an exaggerated femininity with an hourglass shape - sharpened to points by strong shoulders, nipped waists and generous hips - playing a starring role. While the collection showed flashes of ultra-modernity in the form of Barbarella-ish corsetry worn in the popular-mode, sans-pants, it was the golden age that scored the most lines. "I have been so inspired by the cinema over the years that the moment had come for me to show it in no uncertain way?" Gaultier gushes. This collection was based on the cinema and nothing but the cinema."

As well as being inspired by film, Gaultier has himself been responsible for some significant on-screen moments. The sumptuous gowns that so greatly enhanced the fantasy of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover were Gaultier's, as were the alien outfits (or in Mila Jovovich's case, strategically placed straps) in The Fifth Element. Gaultier also created costumes for the Dystopian French steam-punk feast La Cite des enfants perdus (The City of Lost Children) The Frenchman has high praise for the directors of these three disparate but visually exquisite pieces. "I have worked with few directors," he tells us. "Peter Greeneway, Pedro Almodovar and Luc Besson? It was a great privilege to work with these ones that I admire."

Despite these achievements, for most Gaultier is associated with the stage, not the screen. "The Blonde Ambition Tour was a real standout for me," Gaultier says of his most famous collaboration. It was on this tour that the designer's now notorious cone-shaped brassiere was aired to a wide audience, pioneering the inner-wear as outer-wear trend in a way no one had done before. "It was a real collaboration, friendship and complicity," he gushes. "Madonna was frightened of nothing and our vision was in complete harmony and symbiosis." Gaultier worked with Madonna on subsequent tours, and last year contributed costumes for Kylie Minogue. Most recently he caused a sensation in France through his work with Quebecoise songstress Mylene Farmer. "Mylene has always staged the most incredible concerts. Even before Madonna. I remember the first tour that I have seen in mid eighties, the stage recreated a cemetery, there was this enormous wrought iron fence? It was amazing!" he shares with Oyster. "So when Mylene asked me to design the costumes for this tour I accepted and it was a wonderful collaboration. We have used some of my codes, like a trench coat or a pinstripe suit but I also designed the whole section of anatomical costumes." The costumes in question are astonishingly graphic, featuring red, musculature; detailing that sits somewhere between horror and Haute.

The rest of this feature is in the 84th issue of Oyster Magazine.