Vintage News | Jean Paul Gaultier reflects on French fashion rebels

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Jean Paul Gaultier with model Anna Cleavland at his Haute Couture Autumn-Winter 2015 Runway Show. (Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)



I didn't go to fashion school. I've been against formal education ever since I discovered Santa Claus isn't real, so everything I learned about fashion growing up, came from reading magazines and looking at photos.

I remember watching this beautiful movie, Falbalas from French director Jacques Becker, showing the life of a couturier in the 1940's and the production of a fashion show, when I was 12 years old. The show had movement, it had life, and it had theater and it really captured my imagination. I've been fascinated by designers who evoke drama ever since.

For that reason, I'm very proud to be from France, which has given the world so many pioneering designers. While I don't believe there's anything innate about the French and style, it's impossible to deny that contemporary fashion's roots are in this country. From the beginning, France -- and Paris in particular -- has been the capital and heart of fashion, with a long list of innovators who changed the way we looked at clothes, the body and even ourselves.

And as the world becomes smaller and the industry more global, that history and influence are more important -- and wider felt -- than ever before. Experimentation, variety and quality can come from anywhere today, but the ones who laid the groundwork for this did so in France.


French Fashion Innovators

Like many designers, I admired France's most celebrated, original and audacious couturiers.

Christian Dior's ground-breaking "New Look" changed the way women dressed around the world. His February 1947 collection's signature rebelled against wartime uniforms, austerity and fabric restrictions — the waist was cinched, calves were shown and busts were celebrated.

Madame Grès had a wonderful haute couture house, Grès, and she worked in her own universe. Originally a sculptor, her silk jersey pleated dresses looked as though they had been pulled out of ancient Greece.

But it was the designers of the 1960's and early 1970's who truly pushed boundaries, challenging the traditional elegance of haute couture with radical prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) collections.

After decades of classic sophistication, this new wave of designers brought something fresh— in tune with the sensibility of the time in which we were living. They knew about the sexual revolution, about going into space, about modernism and architecture, and used that in their work. No one had seen anything like it before.

I started working with Pierre Cardin when I was 18. He was one of the industry's top innovators. I'd always admired Cardin because he seemed like such a showman. He was so free, doing these geometric, sometimes abstract designs that were like architecture, which he had studied before he went into fashion. He also designed everything from furniture to industrial design to car interiors.

André Courrèges worked at Balenciaga for 10 years before opening his own house. He was a trained engineer before becoming a designer, and from early on I was always under the impression that he was starting a revolution. I realize now it was because he was actually dressing the real woman of the 1960's — a modern woman who drove, rather than sipping cocktails at home. His clothes may have looked futuristic, but they were perfect for that moment.

I also loved Paco Rabanne, who invented the incredible metallic dress. It was everywhere, worn by all the major yé-yé singers -- the rock and roll girls of France — and Brigitte Bardot and Barbarella also wore Paco Rabanne. That was really important to me because I was always influenced and inspired by what actresses and singers were wearing. The jet set were just unfashionable and tacky -- I looked to women with personality.

Then there was Yves Saint Laurent, who was always different from the others. He was scandalous and really reflected change -- the sexual revolution, the rise of liberal beliefs in France -- in a glamorous way. He approached innovation fabulously, showing a woman in a suit, but without sacrificing her femininity.

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