Jean Paul Gaultier talks to OUT this month in a piece that is equal parts heartwarming, heart-wrenching, and entertaining. The man in stripes turns sixty next month, following the opening of his retrospective The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.
In the interview, he jokingly bemoans the effect his impending birthday will have on the nickname that has trailed him throughout his career: “No longer the enfant terrible! Now I am the old terrible.”
With age comes experience, however, and the piece is also brimming with enlightening anecdotes about the designer’s career and personal life:
On his signature Breton stripes:
“‘I used to see them at flea markets,’ he says of the sweaters. ‘I made one into a dress, something of a man for a woman. So très bien. Leslie Winer was the model. So beautiful. The first androgynous model. Fabulous. She was moving like a guy. She worked with William Burroughs. I gave her an umbrella, and, without even telling her, she carried it like James Dean in East of Eden down the catwalk. That attitude was so fantastic.’”
On his early clashes with Paris fashion’s old guard:
“‘I was against the codes we had in Paris. Through clothes, I felt that you could say something. In my shows, I could show a different type of beauty. Through my collections, I tried different casting, different ways of walking, and I loved to show ambiguity. What is masculine and what is feminine, anyway? Why should men not show that they can be fragile or seductive? I am only happy when there is no discrimination.’”
On how his parents’ acceptance helped him embrace his sexuality from an early age:
“They said, ‘If you love each other, that is all we care about. We will not say anything. Love is always good,’ ” he recalls. “A few years later, when I said that the girl is perhaps not a girl, they said the same: ‘If you love each other, perfect.’ That gave me peace.”
The most touching point, however, comes when Gaultier discusses his long-time lover and business partner, Francis Menuge, who died of AIDS in 1990.
“Just after he died, I said to myself, ‘What do I do now? Do I stop?…You know the expression about losing an arm? It was like that. He was both my arms. Maybe he was the legs, too? The heart, definitely.’”