Jean Paul Gaultier: From teddy bears to Madonna – his muses

Jean-Paul Gaultier
From teddy bears to Madonna – his muses

Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates his milestone birthday in fashion retirement.

© Denis Makarenko/

Jean Paul Gaultier celebrates his 70th birthday on April 24th. As a fashion designer, he was inspired by Madonna – but also by his teddy bear.

He is considered the “enfant terrible” of the fashion scene. Jean Paul Gaultier is not a fan of conventions. Long before Heidi Klum (48) began preaching diversity on the catwalk on “Germany’s next top model”, Gaultier had been practicing it for a long time. Although he will be celebrating his 70th birthday on April 24th when he has already retired from fashion, his heritage is not yet dusty and his taboo-breaking looks are unforgotten. To this day, the fashion designer is involuntarily associated with iconic designs such as Madonna’s (63) cone bra from 1990 – but he had previously made this for a completely different muse…

Jean Paul Gaultier’s first muse: his teddy bear

Gaultier designed his first creation as a child for his teddy bear. In an interview with muse and good friend Erin O’Connor (44) for “Vogue” the designer said in 2015 that he wanted a doll when he was a child. However, since this was too unusual for boys at the time, his parents bought him a teddy bear instead. Dissatisfied with the bear’s male gender, Gaultier gave it paper breasts and a skirt that he sewed onto the animal.

“He was my first muse,” Gaultier also recalled in conversation with showmaster Graham Norton (59) return. The British presenter even “guests” the toy in question on his show. What viewers got to see: To this day, the teddy bear, which has now become a museum exhibit, has conical breasts – a shape that would become legendary years later thanks to Madonna.

His grandmother awakens his love for corsets

But even before Jean Paul Gaultier dressed stars and models, he was fashion-inspired by his first great love – his grandmother. While she was visiting patients as a nurse, he had the opportunity to rummage through her closet. In an interview, he told O’Connor that he was fascinated by his grandmother’s fashion and that his gaze was particularly caught by a very unusual piece of clothing.

“She was always dressed in black, but she had a garment that was salmon-colored and was unusual and had tie ties,” he recalled. “I was wondering what that was. It looked so unusual to me.” His grandmother later explained to him that what was found was a corset intended to narrow the woman’s waist. Since then, Gaultier hasn’t let go of the garment – later it would find its way into many of his collections.

Yvette Horner’s big makeover

With no formal training – in retrospect he calls fashion magazines his school – Gaultier started his career at the age of 18 as an intern with Pierre Cardin (1922-2020). The designer recognized the youth’s talent and encouraged him over the next few years. In 1976 Gaultier published his first collection – today he considers it “catastrophic”. Nevertheless, he soon won over fashion critics and journalists with his talent and repeatedly caused a stir with his catwalk shows.

Typical for Gaultier: Collections far removed from gender roles presented by unusual models. Tattoos, gray hair, curvy women, older men – they all found a home in the designer’s catwalk shows. Unsurprisingly, French accordionist Yvette Horner (1922-2018) became one of Jean Paul Gaultier’s muses of the 1980s.

Together with the designer, the musician changed her look dramatically at the time – she dyed her brown hair red, she exchanged the classic petticoats for Gaultier’s exciting designs. He dressed his muse in costumes in the French national colors, colorful dresses and unforgettable: the iconic Eiffel Tower dress. Until her death in 2018, the musician and the designer were close friends.

From Madonna to Björk – Jean Paul Gaultier and the Music

A big music fan himself – he even released his own single in 1988 – Gaultier worked with the biggest musicians of the time during his career. Alongside Horner, Madonna was also considered one of the designer’s most important muses. Already in the film “Susan … desperately wanted” (1985) the singer attracted attention with a skirt with straps by Gaultier. Then, in the early 1990s, Gaultier was commissioned to design the costumes for their upcoming Blond Ambition World Tour. At first, the Frenchman even thought the job was a joke, as he later revealed in an interview with The Guardian. “I admired her,” he enthused. Probably the most iconic costume of the tour: the golden corset with cone bra element. It was to be the beginning of a long-term collaboration.

But the designer has also designed numerous stage outfits for artists such as Björk (56), Kylie Minogue (53) and Mylène Farmer (60). As a big fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, Gaultier also dressed some of the French contestants for the competition. In 2014 he met a new muse there: winner Conchita Wurst (33). In the same year, the drag artist was allowed to close the winter collection show for Gaultier.

Gaultier’s love of pop culture

The designer found people who inspired him not only in music. It has always been pop culture and its extraordinary personalities that have fascinated Gaultier. For example, he found his soul mate in burlesque dancer Dita von Teese (49), like him in a joint interview with “Vogue” announced in 2011. Again and again, the American floated down the catwalk for her good friend – even at his big farewell show in January 2020.

Carla Bruni Sarkozy (49), Bella Hadid (25), Eva Herzigova (49), Amanda Lear and Rossy de Palma (57) also repeatedly inspired the fashion designer during his career. The list of models he admired is long. But those who admire him are probably even longer. “I can’t imagine Jean Paul Gaultier ever being able to retire,” said Bruni Sarkozy at the 70-year-old’s last fashion show. “He’s more than alive.”

And yet he went into fashion retirement in 2020. With its world-famous brand, it will still continue. This will probably not mean the end of Gaultier’s work either. He wanted to devote himself to something new, he explained at the end of his final collection. So even at the age of 70, we can still expect a lot from Jean Paul Gaultier.


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