On Saturday night, Miss France 2009 read from a sparkling gold envelope, announcing Coco Rocha as the winner of Miss Jean Paul Gaultier 2015 France et Outre Mer. Rocha “fainted” with joy. As she was revived and crowned, gold confetti spewed from the ceiling and Chic’s “I Want Your Love” blasted on the loudspeakers. On the hemicycle stage, a group of models danced to the disco tune and the man himself – Mr. Gaultier – took a final bow to thunderous applause. This was Gaultier’s last-ever ready-to-wear show, and it was a joyful ending to something that began more than 30 years ago.
Models wearing his signature mariner stripe shirts opened the show, singing and dancing to Prince’s “1999”. Staged as a beauty pageant narrated by journalist Alex Taylor and Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, the show was not a retrospective. Although classic Gaultier signatures permeated – tailored silhouettes, nude corset dresses with conical breasts, lucha libre fighting uniforms — this was not a retrospective per se, but a tribute. Always fond of injecting a bit of humor into his work, the designer cast look alike models to represent Suzy Menkes, Franca Sozzani and Emmanuel Alt, complete with wigs.
The designer cited “commercial constraints” as the principal reason for ceasing his ready to wear collections to concentrate on couture, beauty and special projects. While the exact reasons for closing ready to wear after all these years may never be know, it is a radically different fashion environment today than when Gaultier started in the early 1980s. He pretty much dominated fashion in the mid-80s and 90s, pushing the boundaries each season with skirt-pants for men, unisex clothes, religious garments and coned corsets, including the ones Madonna made famous. But in the last 15 years, fashion has become a commercial enterprise. In such an environment, the mission of fashion designers has changed, and Gaultier’s once pioneering vision seemed wrong for current climate. He appears lost in a bygone era. Let’s hope he can find his true calling again with couture.
Long Nguyen is the co-founder and style director of Flaunt.