Jean Paul Gaultier on 50 years in fashion and his “Fashion Freak Show” at the Roundhouse in Camden

Jean Paul Gaultier has been in fashion for more than 50 years, known for conical bras, striped sailor tops, men in skirts and gender-neutral designs. He has dressed Madonna, Björk and Lady Gaga, and was elevated to cult status in the 1990s as the co-presenter of Channel 4’s Eurotrash, with Antoine de Caunes. The French designer recently turned 70, and his wild, eventful life will be celebrated in a song-and-dance spectacular, Jean Paul Gaultier: Fashion Freak Show, for 52 shows at the Roundhouse in London this July. Boyz caught up with him.

Tell us about the major differences you found between your native France and London when you first moved here.

The first time I came to England, to London, the people, the architecture, the weather, the spirit was something incredible. It was beginning of the 1970s, so I saw Tommy the movie, The Rocky Horror Show, the punks. Nobody else but the English could do something like that. I loved the eccentricity and the freedom. In France there’s no sense of humour, no sense of self-criticism. You have always to be so nice and so elegant. Truly, I hate that, and I love that in England there is a contrast: fantasy is completely accepted.

Many people say your work helped them with their identity and their sexuality

Oh yes! And I myself was influenced by people I saw around me. My first transgender was actually my Teddy Bear! I gave him the conical bra when i was 7 – long before Madonna wore it during her Blond Ambition tour! Do you know a lot of people that would let a little boy do that? That was the kind of freedom that I had. But I’m not someone who likes to change people, to say you should be like this or that.

Eurotrash on C4 in the 1990s made you a household name – was it a fun change from your high-pressured day job as a fashion designer?

Antoine de Caunes asked me to co-present Eurotrash in 1994 but I tell him: “I am not a presenter. I don’t know how to speak.” And he says: “No problem. You just have to be yourself.” Bon, which was meaning maybe the gay one! So after I realised that it was him and me, but very French, so: let’s do it. And I think it was funny.

Is it true you asked Madonna to marry you – three times?

It was not a joke. It was for me to show her how happy I was to be with her, work with her on our collaboration. Though to be honest, I knew that it would be terrible! I remember the first time I saw Madonna singing “Holiday” on Top of the Pops… I was surprised an American could dress like that.

Should fashion become greener to save the planet?

She has to. The new designers of today have to do that. Recycling is a big part of sustainabIlity. I started recycling with my very first fashion show. Why? Because I had no money! So I used lots of things I found, cut them up and stitched them together. When I did my first show, the French were like “hmmm, it was not very chic”. But the British loved it, and the Japanese.

The Roundhouse are hosting your show, Fashion Freak Show. How well do you know Camden?

Camden Market! I came here so many times…

Do you still feel like an ‘enfant terrible’? 

I’m a very old ‘enfant terrible’ at this point. I can’t remember who gave me the name, but I think it was the British press. For me it was a compliment. I don’t want to be part of the system.

After 50 years you presented your final haute couture show in 2020. Do you miss fashion?

Oh, not at all, no! I like to do things about fashion but I don’t want to do fittings any more. So if somebody asks me to make an exhibition about a subject like denim or corsetry, I would love to do that. And that’s why I created Fashion Freak Show, because I was getting to 50 years of fashion and I like to express myself about it.

Photos by BOBY

Jean Paul Gaultier: Fashion Freak Show is at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8EH from 19 July to 28 August (previews 15-18 July).


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