When Jean Paul Gaultier announced a few weeks ago that this would be his final ready-to-wear collection, one would have thought he was announcing his impending death. Almost immediately, obituary-like tributes began popping up on the web site of every fashion-related outlet, including the New York Times. Platitudes came in waves so large as to threaten to drown readers. Gaultier is quitting? Say it isn’t so!

Let’s be very clear: Jean Paul Gaultier isn’t dying, neither is he leaving the world of fashion. He’s dropping ready-to-wear, at least for now, but will continue to do a haute couture line. One can only imagine, as we’ve already discussed this season, that the commercial pressures of doing far too many different collections in too short a time span has pushed this one-time l’infant terrible to his breaking point. The creative mind can only take so much pressure before it just stops.

Gaultier has always been a showman, though, and there was absolutely no way he was going out without a bang, and without question he made the biggest bang possible. One might argue that with all the effort put into this one presentation, there was enough creativity and design to have pushed through at least two or three more seasons. Yet, here it all was, big, glorious, and fantastically over the top in ways never seen before and, given the cost, quite likely never seen again.

At this point I need to stop and warn you that this review is necessarily very, very long. If you are preparing dinner or otherwise engaged in some peripheral activity while reading this, you might want to turn down the flame, pull over and park, or take other steps to secure everyone’s safety for the next few minutes.

Gaultier chose a beauty pageant as his final theme, with the alleged purpose being the election of Miss Jean Paul Gaultier 2015. For this event, he secured the Rex theatre in Paris, one with an enormously large stage perfect for hosting major productions such as this one. The tickets, which everyone wanted even if they had no idea who Jean Paul Gaultier is, were tri colore sashes which one had to wear to get inside the door. Everyone who is anyone in the world of fashion was there. Forget those little minor league celebrity wanna-bes. When was the last time anyone saw Pierre Cardin at an event? He was here. So was Alexander Wang, Jeremy Scott, Alber Elbaz, Gareth Pugh, and Catherine Deneuve. Now there is a front row worth mentioning! Magazines sent their entire editorial teams. Department stores sent whole purchasing staffs. I’m not sure fashion’s elite have ever turned out for an event like they did this one.

The stage set was stereotypical of a pageant with the large staircase coming down from the back (something models had to navigate with great care as the steps were too narrow). The show opened with a choreographed “dance” number before an emcee made his appearance and announced that Miss Jean Paul Gaultier would be selected from among participants in a variety of categories. He was then joined by Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, who is frequently referred to as a living Picasso, in full burlesque mode. The moment when she strode down the runway herself and stripped out of her Gaultier suit to a black bustier elicited more cheers and catcalls than a night at Moulin Rouge.

Models came in groups with no models taking more than one look (which meant the largest casting in all Paris Fashion Week). Categories were:

  • Miss Mariniere
  • Miss Hommage A Madame de Palmay
  • Miss Tour de France
  • Miss Mateo
  • Miss Redactrice de Mode
  • Miss Femme de Footballeur
  • Miss Vintage
  • Miss Smoking
  • Miss Lucha Libre

Now, given there were at least ten looks to every category, can you see why this was such an incredibly huge show? If you think I’m going to even start attempting to describe the all the looks, you are going to be terribly disappointed.

There were some highlights were mentioning, though. Hair for the Tour de France was severely braided to resemble bicycle helmets and tight-fitting biking shorts were a significant part of each look. For Miss Redactrice de Mode, models were made up to resemble major fashion editors, including, quite hilariously, Vogue’s Grace Coddington with her immense shock of very bright red hair, and Suzy Menkes with her extremely specific coif. Both editors were sitting right next to each other on the front row and were seen applauding vigorously when their looks hit the runway. For the Miss Vintage section, and this part almost made me misty eyed, Gaultier brought back models “of a certain age,” women whose names would be recognizable only to those who have been in the industry as long if not longer than I have. Each one was still very fit, and impeccably beautiful. They made the trip down the catwalk on the arms of very buff and very shirtless male models who one more than one occasion had to help steady their escort as they navigated the turn at the end of the runway. Finally, for Miss Lucha Libre models came out donned in tights, very creative wrestling masks, and more than a few capes. They engaged in some playful sparring before making their trip down the runway.

From the aspect of silhouettes, a couple of things stand out. There were a number of very tightly fitted masculine tailored looks with creative cutouts. What I think will ultimately stick, though, is a look that drapes the left arm like a coat slung over one shoulder. When done in a look that has tight-fitting trousers on the opposite side, the effect is phenomenal.

After everyone made their walk, which understandably took a while, Miss France 2009 Chloé Mortaud arrived and crowned super model and Gaultier favorite Coca Rocha as Miss Jean Paul Gaultier, but to some extent no one cared. They were waiting to see the man responsible for this incredible spectacle. Finally, he appeared at the top of the stairs and cannons filled the theatre with gold confetti. A roaring crowd rose to their feet and the party light came on as Prince and Madonna, both of whom Gaultier has dressed, blared in the background.

Fashion is undoubtedly going to miss Jean Paul Gaultier, and I would like to think that this might be motivation to consider whether all the pre- collections are worth the creative stress on designers. It won’t. At the end of the day, fashion, like every other industry, is about making money. Creatives be damned. I still wouldn’t rule out an eventual come back by Gaultier, either. One collection a year is not going to be enough to hold all his creativity nor his immense ego. Gaultier loves the spotlight and is almost assuredly going to be missing it as soon as this time next year.

We are happy to not be burying Jean Paul Gaultier and the praise will continue for quite some time to come.

Photo credit: Guillame Roujas

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