Jean Paul Gaultier has been one of the world’s most inventive and charismatic designers for nearly four decades. From cone bras to skirts for men, he is a pioneer when it comes to envelope-pushing fashion, so it was fitting when he recently announced that he was shutting down his women’s and men’s ready-to-wear collections and his accessories business to focus exclusively on his couture collection and perfumes. To say that Gaultier goes against the grain would be an understatement. Here’s a look at 10 things you probably didn’t know about the affable designer.
- He has a love-hate relationship with getting older. Seeing his grandmother age gracefully gave him “the image of getting older as something that was very sweet and very nice and about sharing stories,” he has said. “But then when I see my arthritis starting to begin, like when I’m dancing, I think, ‘Uh oh!’ I would have loved to do Dancing With the Stars but I couldn’t, ha!”
- While there are some celebrities he collaborates directly with (like Madonna), others (like Beyoncé) simply “chose some of my things.” The designer revealed to ELLE that his work with Madonna was the most incredible collaboration he’s ever had. He also noted when speaking with The Times U.K. that Madonna used to always be on time, but now she’s the last to arrive. “She made her first concert in Paris in 1987 or 1988, and there was a party after. I was intimide, but she was first to arrive, waiting for everybody. She was like this always for 10 years, always on time but now… boof, finished! She is the last one.”
- The designer’s first serious boyfriend and former business partner Francis Menuge died of AIDS in 1990, 15 years after they first met. “It was Francis who really urged me on at the start of my career, because I’m more of an abstract than an ambitious person. He saw my talent and felt my passion and would always push me when I was lazy or demotivated. He’d jokingly encourage me to build ‘my empire,'” the designer revealed.
- Gaultier is famed for his out-of-the-box runway casting. He has opted to show women of all sizes, races and ages. When asked about this, he explained to Dazed that when he casts models, he loves to show a variety of women. “Beautiful sexy women with curves, ethnic women, androgynous women. I don’t want to have just one specific image of a woman in my shows, I want to present what really exists. And the same for men. I also like to show attitude.”
- The designer is easily inspired. “Inspiration is never a problem; I usually have too much of it. I sometimes want to say too many things at once. Everything I see can inspire me: the cinema, theater, music,” he told Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon.
- For his final ready-to-wear show, the designer had a beauty pageant-themed affair. Models competed for the title of “Miss Jean Paul Gaultier 2015” in front of an audience of nearly 3,000 people, including Catherine Deneuve, Boy George, Alexander Wang and Pierre Cardin.
- Gaultier had very open parents, especially by traditional French standards. He often credits them for their open-mindedness and when he told them that he was gay, they had no problem with it. “I remember that one day I saw a movie with Sidney Poitier, which was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. And it was a love story between one black guy and one white woman. After seeing that, I asked my parents, ‘If I arrive with a girlfriend and she’s black, what would you say?’ ‘If you love each other,’ said my mother, ‘it will be perfect.’ And years after, when I told them that I was gay and had a boyfriend, they said to me, ‘You love each other?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They said, ‘So that’s perfect.’”
- Gaultier was creative from a very young age and much of that was expressed via a teddy bear he had growing up. In an interview with French Radio London, he revealed that he wanted a doll, but that wasn’t really done when he was young, so he “transformed” his teddy bear. “I put conical papier mâché breasts on it. And then I made this teddy bear live through everything that was going on at the time. When King Baudouin of Belgium married [Queen] Fabiola [in 1960], I dressed it in a bridal gown like Fabiola’s,” which he sewed himself. He also gave the bear a cone bra and performed open heart surgery on it in an effort to reenact the heart transplant performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in 1967.
- Gaultier will be included in the upcoming China-inspired spring exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art called China: Through the Looking Glass. The exhibit will be staged by the museum’s Chinese Galleries and the Anna Wintour Costume Center and will run from May 7 to August 16.
- Gaultier wrote an open letter in response to Tim Blanks’ rather unflattering Style.com review of the designer’s cat-themed Fall 2014 haute couture show.