Last Wednesday night in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Jean Paul Gaultier staged his final runway show. The news came as a surprise to fashion lovers around the globe, as he announced his departure just days prior. After 50 years, the 67-year-old confirmed it would be his last collection, but fashion for him isn’t wholly over. Collaborations—including the upcoming Atelier Swarovski x Jean-Paul Gaultier jewelry collection—and fashion retrospectives are dutifully on the horizon.
Since Gaultier’s first show 44 years ago in 1976, he’s been celebrated for various reasons. He’s put bodies of all sizes, shapes, ages, and colors on the runway because that’s a true depiction of who’s living, buying, and wearing fashion today. Early on, he celebrated gender-bending and sexual fluidity, a bad attitude and a good look, and so, so much more. He garnered fame for being honest, for being unruly, and for creating clothing that was insubordinate at times, but gorgeous always. And Gaultier, although it’s now a hot-ticket topic, has been sustainable in several ways for years—first an initiative for him as a young designer to, of course, save money on fabric. So, for his last show, he showed a whopping 200 looks of the good, the bad, and the intriguingly unusual one last time, as well as his first upcycled haute couture collection.
The Spring/Summer 2020 haute couture show opened with images from Who are you, Polly Magoo?—a 1966 satire film on the fashion world by William Klein, emphasized by a scene shot in a cemetery. Gaultier showing such a scene set the stage as more of a mockery to the death-derived tone than anything, as those in attendance knew his views of fashion weren’t appearing one last time to die. They were appearing, one last time, to live forever. Minutes later, a real-life plot appeared on the stage—organized by Spanish choreographer Blanca Li. After carried to the front of the stage, a casket—bearing two metal cones, as if wearing a famed Gaultier bra like Madonna in 1990—was opened by model Karlie Kloss. Its occupant rose, showing the first look: a baby doll dress made of smaller baby doll dresses in the same style. Was couture dead, or born anew?
The night’s animated presentation—curated by Gaultier, reflecting his rebellious attitude and diverse inspirations—welcomed more than just models to the runway. Less of a traditional fashion show and more of a celebration of people, he put stars and personas on the stage like Paris Jackson (who made her catwalk debut), Dita Von Teese, Pandemonia (who kept the balloon and latex garb intact), Mylène Farmer, Béatrice Dalle (who smoked and put her cigarette out on the floor), Farida Khelfa, Claudia Huidobro (dressed as Frida Kahlo), Amanda Lear, Coco Rocha (who danced an upbeat Irish jig), Irina Shayk, Gigi and Bella Hadid, and Rossy de Palma. And filling up the impressive theater, applauding the clothes and cheering on the catwalk cabaret, were designers like Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière (Gaultier’s former intern), Isabel Marant, Christian Louboutin, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, Paco Rabanne’s Julien Dossena, Christian Lacroix, Dries Van Noten, and Mary Katrantzou.
Flashes of entirely different looks and presentations made their way down the runway. The designer’s lengthy list of inspirations seemed to range from sailors to Día de los Muertos divas, and from elusive personalities in hiding to women in hierarchy (with men in metal corsets carrying their dress trains). Transparent dresses of chiffon and tulle were seen mixed between gown-like coats, hats of feathers, and remakes of his corset bra tops. A floor-sweeping cape coat in camouflage was seen open and flowing from Winne Harlow, atop a barely-there nude tulle dress spotted with camo print; Anna Cleveland strutted a bondage-esque dress made entirely out of satin belts—some unbuckled and puckering apart down below; and 80-year-old Lear left her pants and any doubt about it back home, strutting down the stage in a wide scoop-neck top that dazzled in countless sequins.
For the finale, British pop star Boy George appeared in a black hat and overcoat that featured the designer’s name and etched details of blue, gold, black, and red around a bed of roses. For his close-out performance, those Oohing and Aahing traded in gasps for a singalong of his 1980s hit Church of the Poison Mind. Surrounded by Gaultier-clad models, moguls, and supporters from around the globe, Gaultier then emerged for one last bow. Dressed in blue workman’s overalls, he paraded down the catwalk—and seemingly his past, present, and future—for one last theatrical bow.