Jean Paul Gaultier’s Upcycled Couture

Jean Paul Gaultier’s Upcycled Couture collection may have been his last, but it may also be his most memorable

By Chere Di Boscio

Jean Paul Gaultier decided to present his last ever couture collection with a runway that was a celebration of sustainability.

His Upcycled Couture collection was paraded down the catwalk at his final fashion show by a series of models who shared one thing in common: diversity.

From the earliest days of his career, Gaultier has always been a fan on non-conventional beauty, as epitomized by a phrase he likes to use, “Tout le monde est beau!” (“Everyone is beautiful”). He has always challenged gender stereotypes, as clearly illustrated by the ‘macho’ power suits and fierce bras he made for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour back in the 90’s. He typically used older and plus sized models like Beth Ditto in his shows, and this one was no exception. Men and women of all shapes and sizes featured on his catwalk, and the audience couldn’t have been more delighted.

His “Fashion Freak Show”, as he cheekily called it, opened with Boy George belting out a rousing version of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. Suddenly, six dancers in kilts, singlets and army boots marched out like pallbearers bearing a coffin with giant cone ‘breasts’ sticking out – Gaultier’s knowing admission that the iconic bra he famously created for Madonna will probably be what he’s most remembered for after he’s gone.

Though the Material Girl wasn’t in the audience, there were 1,500 other VIPs packed into the Théâtre du Châtelet to witness the spectacle. Several top designers were there to pay tribute, such as Dries Van Noten, Nicolas Ghesquière, Kenzo and Christian Louboutin, as well as many celebrities, both on and off the stage. Yasmin Le Bon, Rossy de Palma, Erin O’Connor, and Bella and Gigi Hadid were but a few of the models who contributed their personalities to Gaultier’s Upcycled Couture.

Jean Paul Gaultier’s Upcycled Couture

The designer’s career has been defined by sailor stripes, camouflage, denim, corsetry, fetish and bordello influences and gender-bending, and all were on display in this final show –  but with an eco-twist. This collection was a master class in creative recycling: skirts were formed from recycled strips of black silk stockings or upcycled opera gloves; there was a patchwork bodysuit made from vintage silk ties; upcycled biker jackets were cut into mini-skirts, and re-used bits of denim jackets and jeans were cut to do incredible things, including forming crinoline hoops encircling the bodies of the models, and acting like fine lace decorating elaborately detailed gowns.

“For the 50th, I wanted to be faithful to the themes that always obsessed me – jeans, corsets, sailors and androgyny,” explained Gaultier. But why Upcycled Couture? “When I was a child, my mother used to recount how she would take my father’s old worn pants and cut them in to skirts. That marked me. One could love a garment anew by transforming it. That’s what I have done from my first show, notably with jeans. My jeans! From my first show to my last,” he stated to Vogue. “I was recycling things, because at the beginning I had no money. So I was taking things like jeans and camouflage and doing funny things with them—and now I did that with my couture!”

The designer is clearly obsessed with denim, and even wore a denim boiler suit for his last walk down the couture runway. “In my first show, and in this, my last, there are creations made with the jeans I’ve worn,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful of materials. Like a lot of humans, it becomes even more beautiful as it gets older.”

Like John Galliano’s work at Maison Margiela, Jean-Paul Gaultier has demonstrated that trash can indeed be recycled and upcycled into treasure – even haute couture. He believes that garments should never, ever be tossed into landfill – there’s always a use for them: “There are too many clothes and too many that are never worn. Don’t throw them away, recycle them,” he declared.

Although he gave up using fur in his collections in 2018, calling the way in which animals are killed for their fur “absolutely deplorable,” he hasn’t been recognised as one of the more eco-conscious fashion designers, perhaps until now. Regarding his previous use of fur, he was on the record saying he believed that the company he used for the material was ‘humane,’ but when he learned the reality (thanks to the efforts of PETA, apparently) he dropped animal fur from his collections immediately.

A Joyous Farewell

Although a farewell collection and the theme of sustainability can both be rather heavy, Gaultier was determined to make his last blast  fun and exuberant. Model Coco Rocha flew down the catwalk in an energetic Irish dance; a male matador tiptoed en pointe towards photographers at the foot of the runway; Beatrice Dalle smoked her way down the stage, tossing the butt on the floor for a photographer to pick it up and puff it to its finish…in short, the show was funny, it was sexy, and it was no surprise that the standing ovation went on for ages.

Although at 67, many people would be slowing down, Gaultier retains a sense of childlike wonder about the world, and isn’t afraid to learn new tricks. “Everything inspires me. And that will continue with my new adventures, the best is ahead!” he enthused, after his final, and smashingly successful, couture show.

Watch parts of the show here

The Best Looks From The Show

Jean Paul Gaultier's Upcycled Couture collectionJean Paul Gaultier's Upcycled Couture collectionJean Paul Gaultier's Upcycled Couture collectionJean Paul Gaultier's Upcycled Couture collection

Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / via Vogue
Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / via Vogue

All images: AFP / Anne-Christine POUJOULAT unless otherwise marked. Main image: Reuters

Chere Di Boscio
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