Fashion freak out!


Jean  Paul, can you describe the concept behind the Fashion Freak Show? What can people who come to see the show expect?

“Well, I was thinking to make something musical. I once made a record (Aow Tou Dou Zat) which was not a great success. It was a massive flop. Mostly because I sang on it! [JP dissolves into a fit of giggles – he does this a lot and each time it’s adorable!] I’m getting to the end of my career in fashion but I still love fashion. But I didn’t want to make a traditional fashion show, so I’m telling my own story. It’s the story of a little boy from Arcueil in France who is not accepted and not too clever. I don’t play football. I was not too good at school. But one day when I was bored at school, I was six or seven maybe, I made some sketches. Maybe then I realised a dream. That by doing sketches of girls it could make me acceptable, you know? I saw a movie that was always on TV about sewing, about couture. It was like a play. `I wanted it to become a reality.”

His Fashion Freak Show, which is choreographed to a floor-filling soundtrack including songs by a host of LGBT+ favourites – Conchita Wurst (Rise like a Phoenix) Bronski Beat (Smalltown Boy), David Bowie (Fashion)., Josephine Baker and even The Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (a personal favourite of Jean Paul), has been described a “rude, sexy and sassy”. Could this also be a description of the show’s creator?

Jean Paul giggles, again, requests a French translation, admits to being flattered then stresses that the show aims to be “authentic… to show all the things I was dreaming about. It’s about Freaks, Monsters. They are different and I love them. I wanted to show that there is no one kind of beauty. That there are many different kinds of beauty.”

Throughout his career Gaultier has been described as provocative. Is he trying to deliberately provoke with his Fashion Freak Show?

“No, I don’t think so. I think provocation is good when it is done for art, when it has something behind it, a way of thinking, and a way of being. But when it demonstrates only what exists already it is not even avant garde”.

During a career that has spanned almost five decades Gaultier has dressed everyone from Madonna (who could forget her conical bra?) to Imelda Marcos. But are there any celebrities Jean Paul would like to have dressed but for whatever reason got away?

“I would have liked to dress my grandmother,” he says sweetly, “but she died when I was small. To be honest, I would love to dress your Queen Elizabeth. Definitely. But you know, actually she looks great. She’s fabulous, in her bright colours, and in monochrome. I love her fabulous hats, I love her eccentricity. There is no one particular person…” he says, then changes his mind. “I would love to dress the Pope. But unconventionally.”

This seems a good point at which to bring up our Prime Minister, currently in trouble for attending parties during lockdown. So I ask Jean Paul what he considers the perfect party outfit for Boris Johnson.

“Oh, I would definitely dress Boris in latex. You know, black latex all over, with just a small hole cut in the top so you could see his blonde toupee poking through!’ Boris Johnson dressed in a gimp suit is a vision I don’t want to dwell on, so I move things along.

The  Fashion Freak Show runs at Islington’s iconic Roundhouse (JPG is a particular fan of the tile mosaics in the bathrooms) for 52 shows throughout July and August. It sounds exhausting. Does Jean Paul plan to make any appearances himself?

“I will come and I will see. I’ve already been over twice to see the singers and the dancers. Probably I will come to see some shows, just to see and to say hello.” 

What does Jean Paul look for in his models when he is casting such an elaborate show?

“I look for difference. Not just your typical models. For people who can sing. People who can dance. People who can exaggerate. I look for personality. People who are interesting. That is the most important thing for me. I like to choose difference.”

Jean Paul used to spend a lot of time here in London, so I ask him what is his idea of a perfect day out in the city?

“I like to take a…” – he searches for the right word in English – “‘peregrination’ around the city. To see the sights, to see the shows, to see the people and see how they are. I just like to walk and walk and walk.”

Does Jean Paul think that in an age of consumerism fashion can actually be a force for good?

“I think you can do a lot of things with fashion. You can communicate, you can educate, you can be original if you want, you can express yourself and start a conversation. You can be what you are, and what you are not. You can lie! 

This is not strictly about fashion, but about clothes. I think it is about expressing yourself, or not expressing yourself!”

Do good clothes and fashion cost too much money?

“That depends on what you call good clothes, you know. Sometimes cheaper clothes can be more expressive. Just because something costs a lot of money, has a name or has a label doesn’t make it beautiful. What’s important is that everyone can express who they are when they wear the clothes.”

Elizabeth Taylor once said that people should wear her perfumes “wherever they want to be touched”. So I ask Jean Paul where people should spray his range of fragrances.

“It is quite nice when you smell something or someone that makes you want to follow them. That reminds you of something. Maybe something romantic. We all have our own unique smell. And we all smell things differently. Two people can be wearing the same perfume and smell quite different. I think intimate places are the best!”

Jean Paul who is now a remarkably mischievous 70 years old announced he would be retiring as a fashion designer following his 50th anniversary couture show at Paris Fashion Week in 2020. How closely does he still follow fashion and when was the last time he saw a show and wished he had designed it himself?

“Many times,” he says. He speaks admiringly of the young designers who have worked with him on his couture collections. 

“They take something from me, but then create their own fashion in their own way. It’s fascinating.”

But there really is no substitute for the real thing.

If you want to witness Jean Paul Gaultier’s immense and frequently startling influence on half a century of popular culture first-hand, gawp in astonishment at some of the most iconic creations fashion has ever seen and hear some banging tunes (perhaps whilst dining at your cabaret table) then be sure to book your place at the Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show early. Like Jean Paul himself, it promises to be humane, unforgettable, and above all, HUGE fun. 

Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show is at the Roundhouse from 15 July.

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Picture of Jean Paul Gaultier: Peter Lindbergh 

Picture of Jean Paul Gaultier: Peter Lindbergh