Severe and inaccessible might describe his aesthetic but Jean-Paul Gaultier is neither. The man whose cone bras for Madonna has become an iconic reference to the 1990s was warm and charmingly French during a visit Wednesday to the Academy of Art University where he received an honorary degree before an adoring crowd of fashion students.
It was the start to a fast and furious few days of accolades in San Francisco before “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” officially opens at the de Young Museum on Saturday. The exhibition, which runs through Aug. 19, showcases four decades of the designer’s signature style, from sculptural, corseted gowns and cage-like costumes to androgynous kilts and Breton stripes.
While his collections are provocative and dramatic, Gaultier was as approachable as a friendly professor. His audience, mostly students of fashion, were both starstruck and inspired by the designer’s presence. His embrace of the unconventional is now lauded, but he said there was a time when he was punished and rejected from school for not following rules–sketching “the girls” from Folies Bergere instead of practicing gymnastics, for instance.
His stubborn insistence on being a rebel was supported early on by his grandmother, he said, and that gave him the confidence to push onward, leading to jobs with established French designers like Pierre Cardin and Jean Patou and eventually, his own label and haute couture house.
“My passion was to make things that could not be found anywhere,” he said, “that was the magic of the 80s and 90s” with colleagues like Alexander McQueen and John Gallianos.
Yet he told students to stay grounded in reality and remember that the “first function of clothes is to dress” and to “stay in contact with reality always, even if you want to dream.”
After being presented with his degree by AAU president Elisa Stephens, Gaultier toured the new fashion campus at 625 Polk St., stopping to chat with students about their ongoing projects.
Miriam Tolentino, an MFA major from Santa Cruz, looked cool and collected while the French couturier studied her textiles and asked about her process. After he headed into another classroom, Tolentino took a visible, deep breath.
“I can’t believe he took the time to really take a closer look and talk to me,” she said. “Wow.”
Category: Fresh Style