From Man Skirts to Cone Bras: A Look Back at Jean Paul Gaultier’s Queer Legacy

Fashion's "enfant terrible" has retired from the runway—but he's left behind a venerable collection of couture gags.

Can We Talk About…? is a weekly series that’s coming for that Season 12 crown, henny.

Even to people unfamiliar with fashion, the name Jean Paul Gaultier rings at least a few bells. That’s because, like the best designers, he transcended the runway to influence culture as a whole. Gaultier made his mark with his affinity for androgyny, which went on to inspire much of the fashion industry and his successors (just look at cool kids like Telfar and Palomo Spain) as well as his frequent collaborations with pop stars and filmmakers. This week, Gaultier announced his retirement after 50 years of turning it out in the biz, capping his brilliant career with a triumphant couture show in Paris.
 

Gaultier got his first job in fashion in 1970 as an assistant to Pierre Cardin (who is still alive and kicking at 97) after impressing the Italian designer with his sketches. Dubbed an enfant terrible when he burst onto the scene with his eponymous label in 1982, Gaultier made a name for himself shaking up the fashion establishment, even when he became a part of it. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, he played with ideas of gender, challenged the industry’s standards of beauty by using “unconventional” (read: not stick-thin, young, and white) models, and injected his collections with the sort of humor and whimsy that’s sorely lacking from the catwalk today. He then ascended to the top of the haute-couture mountain, serving as the creative director of Hermès from 2003 to 2010.

Jean Paul Gaultier was one of the last singular voices left in fashion, and since my invitation to his final show was obviously lost in the mail, here’s a retrospective fit for the kween he is.

Getty Images: Daniel Simon/ Daniel Simon / Pierre Vauthey

Man Skirts, Long Shirts—Uh-Whoa-Oh-OH!

In 1984, Gaultier introduced kilts and man skirts to his runway, finally giving men the freedom to flash some much-needed upper thigh.

Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

America’s First Couple

Even Ken got in on the action when he and Barbie donned some custom Gaultier in 1985 as part of Barbie aficionado Billy Boy’s collection.

Daniel Simon / Getty Images

Bras Before ’Hose

The designer showed an early interest in the conical bra, a send-up of the torpedo bras from the 1950s, and its exaggeration of femininity.

Blond Ambition

But when the Queen of Pop found beauty, then bumped and grinded in said bra for her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour, Gaultier truly took off.

Hey, Sailor

Gaultier’s love-cum-obsession with Querelle—the 1982 Rainer Werner Fassbender film based on the 1947 Jean Genet novel Querelle of Brest about a bisexual sailor, thief, and murderer—is most evident in the ads and bottle for his best-selling fragrance Le Male.

Jean-Paul Gaultier
 

Pleading the Fifth Element

Luc Besson’s 1997 sci-fi fantasia got a big, helping alien hand thanks to Gaultier’s out-of-this-world costumes. Name a more iconic blue space-opera diva.
 

I’ll wait.

Bad Bitch Education

When it comes to his film work, Gaultier has worked most often with gay Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, on 1993’s Kika, 2011’s The Skin I Live In, and (my personal fave) his 2004 masterpiece Bad Education, starring forever would Gael García Bernal.

Category Is: Dinner With the Kushners Realness

Gaultier got back to voguing with his Spring/Summer 2014 collection, featuring supermodel and Project Runway apologist Karlie Kloss striking a pose and getting to it.
 

Gaga x Gaultier

While Lady Gaga forged a fast friendship with Alexander McQueen, whose genius was tainted by darkness, Gaultier always seemed to be a better fit for her particular brand of weird: sexy, campy, subversive. That’s très Gaultier.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat