The Faces of French Fashion – #behindthefrow

In ART & FASHION, Features, HOME by Sam Prance

#behindthefrow is a feature in which PTL gets people to comment on their experiences of fashion weeks and events around the world. From chat on the shows they see to the stylish people they meet along the way, it’s a chance to have an inside look into what really goes on behind the frow. That and it’s a chance to see some beautiful clothes.

Last summer, the Barbican played host to a spectacular exhibition chronicling the life and works of the French fashion revolutionary Jean Paul Gaultier. The perfect mix of weird and wonderful, the exhibition mirrored his life’s work exactly, and it was, all in all, a joy to visit.

When my friend and I found out that Gaultier was speaking at the Vogue Festival this year, we jumped at the chance to attend, ending up with front row seats and thus a very important decision to make concerning what to wear when sitting approximately eight feet away from the man who invented Madonna’s cone bra. Gaultier was in conversation with his long-time friend and muse, Erin O’Connor, who was definitely the tallest and most serenely beautiful person I’ve ever seen in real life. They had a lovely, family-like dynamic that put the audience at ease; Gaultier came across more like Erin’s jovial uncle than the fashion titan he is.

It was enormously interesting to see in real life a glimpse of the genius that has created some of the last century’s most iconic looks, and even more so to realise how humble he is. The name Jean Paul Gaultier is up there with Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel as the greats and indeed game-changers of French fashion, and yet Gaultier himself is almost unaware of this. When asked what his greatest achievement was, he replied simply the fact that he had remained himself, that he was still the ‘lonely little boy’ who first started dressing up his teddy bear like the showgirls he saw on TV.

Jean-Paul-Gaultier-6-Vogue-25Apr15Hearing him talk – and boy, did he talk – was truly heartwarming. He was so honest about his beginnings, from the grandmother who first sparked his interest in fashion to the boyfriend who gave him the courage to do his first show in 1976 (‘un catastrophe!’), Gaultier is not afraid of including his personal life in the realm of his work (because the Vogue Festival is actually work for him). This is such an important part of creativity, one that is often shunned in favour of maintaining that certain “je ne sais quoi” (an ever-present pair of sunglasses and a white ponytail come to mind here, not to mention any names).

This personal element is also something that’s hyper-present in Olivier Rousteing, who we also had the pleasure of hearing speak, as he talked with reigning Queen of Cool, Alexa Chung. Rousteing has over one million Twitter followers, is BFFs with Rihanna and, it seems, every single one of the Kardashians.

Hearing him talk, Olivier Rousteing struck me as the Jean Paul Gaultier of the Instagram generation; they are both anglophile Frenchmen (they both professed a love for London style, and Gaultier said the person he’d most like to dress is the Queen, leaving us all with an uneraseable image of the Queen in a corset), they have both changed the landscape of French fashion, and they both had and have had enormous success at a very young age: Rousteing isn’t even 30 yet and he’s been creative director of Balmain for four years, and Gaultier was 24 when he premiered his first collection, earning the reputation of the enfant terrible of France. Not to mention their shared penchant for nudity: in the 90s, Gaultier appeared on TV wearing a kilt and not much else, and Rousteing appeared on the cover of TÊTU entirely naked.

Seeing such symmetry was really encouraging to someone on the outside of a world that can seem completely intangible. The fact that two of the greatest designers in the world are both so, well, normal, is promising. We left the Vogue Festival feeling both inspired and safe in the knowledge that if we achieve nothing else in life, we have at least been in a selfie with Olivier Rousteing.

Hannah Beer

Hannah B is the Editor of ART & FASHION at PTL. When not thinking about fashion, she can probably be found writing about feminism or tending to her fringe. Whilst deep down she’d like to be Audrey Hepburn when she grows up, she’s realised with age that this is a rather complicated aspiration. As such, she’ll probably try and pursue something in publishing upon leaving the cosy world of education.

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(Image sourced from: here)