Jean-Paul Gaultier: “Saint-Jean-de-Luz is part of me, part of my culture”
The meeting with Jean Paul takes place at the Grand Hotel Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a place that brings back great memories, particularly from his childhood, when he and his family used to spend the summers in the Basque Country. A great couturier, creator of perfumes and costumes for film and dance, the enfant terrible of French fashion reviews his career and his links with our land in this exclusive interview. Interview by Sarah-Jane Di Bona.
How did you get to know the Basque Country? My grandfather was a Gascon. Lot-et-Garonne was the starting point of a family trip that took us to the Basque Coast. We passed through Cap Breton, Hossegor, and the arrival in Saint-Jean-de-Luz was a delight... And then, sometimes, I accompanied my grandmother to a cure in Dax. They allowed me to discover this beautiful country.
What motivated you to settle in the region? I always wanted to have a house in the south-west, near the ocean. But I could never have imagined living anywhere else but Paris. When I returned to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, I fell in love as I relived my childhood memories. I saw again that white city with its blood-coloured shuttered houses, the Bull of Fire, and that bay that had not changed... When I stopped living at a frenetic pace, I made the decision to settle there. This city is part of me and my culture.
What inspires you in this region? It's the feeling of well-being that inspires me. I feed on these sunsets, the blue sky, the contrast of colours, the conviviality... I like this attachment to traditions, the inspiration comes from this energy.
What led you to fashion? I was an only child and had a lot of imagination. At school I was quite lonely, I wasn't a fighter, I didn't play football and I was a bit rejected. At that time my grandmother let me watch TV and I really liked "Las Pasas Verdes", a very visual programme.
But I really had a revelation when I saw an extract from the Folies Bergère show. These women coming down the stairs in fishnet stockings and feathers. I was discovering an extravagant and different universe. At school I started to draw this dancer from the Folies Bergère that I had seen the day before on the screen.
One day the teacher walked past me and saw my sketches. She was furious, asked me to get up and pinned the drawing on my blouse, making me walk around the classrooms to humiliate me. To my surprise, the opposite happened. All the boys who were teasing me started asking me to draw them pictures. They had changed their attitude.
They had become friends with me and that made me realise that by drawing I was accepted. Later I discovered Falbalas by Jacques Becker. So I followed this path, fashion became my job.
You work on all fronts: great couturier, creator of perfumes, costumes for cinema and dance, etc. How do you choose your projects? I'm lucky that projects come naturally to me. When I started, my shyness helped me a lot. I was afraid to show my work, so I sent in my sketches. When I turned 18, Pierre Cardin hired me, it was an exciting experience.
From that moment on, opportunities came my way. Pedro Almodóvar, Peter Greenaway, Besson, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro asked me to collaborate with them on the costumes for their films. Madonna asked me to do costumes for her tours. It was magical to work with artists I admired. I take on projects that I like, such as preparing the Ciné-Mode exhibition that is currently touring Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Burgos, Las Palmas and Seville).
Who are the people who have most influenced your career? I read a lot of magazines and fashion editors inspired me a lot. London too, which was the city of all freedoms. The English dared to wear the most extravagant outfits, reflecting a rebellion. Women flaunted their curves with pride, I admired their daring.
I was later influenced by many artists, in particular David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Polnareff, who played with their androgyny. Boy George for his musical eclecticism. And the Punk movement of course. In '76 I was the only one who showed less conformist collections. Today, Lil Nas X is an artist who is not afraid to assume his homosexuality and I like his artistic universe.
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