Paris Is Losing Its Greatest Ready-to-Wear Showman

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Jean Paul Gaultier’s final ready-to-wear show takes place tomorrow at Le Grand Rex, a cinema in Paris’s second arrondissement. The designer has been showing in Paris for 38 years, and while he’ll continue to pursue couture, fragrance, and other projects, this is his last bow in the RTW arena. And with that, the city is losing one of the biggest highlights of the biannual ready-to-wear shows. 

Gaultier’s memorable runway moments have been legion. He once “levitated” Virginie Mouzat, then the fashion correspondent for Le Figaro, at his spring 2007 magic-themed show. Jourdan Dunn, who was pregnant at the time of his spring 2010 show, sported Gaultier’s signature cone bra and a mini-shield over her belly. For his fall 2003 show, the designer found a creative way to deal with PETA protesters: Wrap them in fur coats and send them on their way. Even his show titles are memorable: The Concierge Is in the Staircase. The Existentialists. Chic Rabbis. Pain Couture. He’s used Andreja Pejic, Björk, Beth Ditto, Amanda Lepore, Dita Von Teese, Hamish Bowles, Velvet D’Amour, and, most recently, Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst in his stable of nontraditional models on his couture and ready-to-wear runways. (Not to mention Madonna, in breast-exposing suspenders in 1992.)

Even for fall 2007, he got then-newcomer Coco Rocha to open the show with a jig — a moment that helped launch the model’s career. “He asked me to Irish dance down his runway to Scottish Highland bagpipes,” Rocha recalls. “It was a little-known skill I had at the time, but Vogue later dubbed it the ‘Coco Moment’ and from then on I was forever known as Coco, the Irish dancing model.” He later brought Rocha back on for two more stunts: a staged catfight with another model in 2009 — “She was secretly pregnant at the time, so I went easy on her, and most of the fight was her yanking me around by my hair,” Rocha remembers. And in spring 2013, Rocha dressed up as John Travolta in Grease. “We worked on a dance number that left me with bruised knees for months. As always, it was more than worth it.”

Everyone who walked in a Gaultier show knew that they were participating in a historic event. “One of my favorite moments of my career was ending his show in a dress he made just for me,” says Crystal Renn. “He was sewing the flowers directly on my body during the fitting, and I remember secretly pinching myself.”

Now every show has an Instagram-ready moment — some sort of visual gimmick or performance to get everyone’s iPhones snapping — but Gaultier, along with Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan, pioneered this kind of runway theatre in a still-analog age. And the fashion didn’t get lost in the pageantry. Speaking to L’Express, former French Marie Claire editor-in-chief Catherine Lardeur said, “He was perceived as an eccentric, but very quickly I came to consider him a classicist, with a perfect command of cuts and volumes.”

His anything-goes défilés were more like happenings — with an inclusive spirit that celebrated people of every size and color and stripe in a world that too often prides itself on exclusion. Click through our slideshow for highlights of Gaultier’s shows throughout the years.

Paris Is Losing Its Best Ready-to-Wear Showman