Jean Paul Gaultier founded his eponymous label in 1982. He quickly gained his reputation as fashion’s enfant terrible (a title he now shares with Moschino’s Jeremy Scott) thanks to his ironical approach to couture, his kinky approach to sex, his unapologetic extravaganza and his use of unconventional models. Older men and women, heavily pierced and tattooed boys and girls and various non-commercial beauties have been gracing his catwalks since his debut bringing their personalities on stage together with their looks, reminding the picky fashion crowd that the world is made of different types of people and that authentic beauty can be found outside the mainstream. Over the years, Jean Paul Gaultier has created iconic pieces for a plethora of celebrities, He produced sculptured costumes for Madonna during the nineties, including the infamous cone bra. He designed costumes and outfits for Marilyn Manson – whose gothic, gender fluid and hardcore style has been celebrated by an entire generation. In 2008, he designed the white and silver mermaid dress that Marion Cotillard wore at the 80th Academy Awards, when she won the Oscar for her performance in La Vie en Rose. Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Nicky Minaj have all worn Gaultier outfits in multiple occasions.
Young – as in 24 years old today – Parisian fashion designer Alphonse Maitrepierre worked for Jean Paul Gaultier after graduating in architecture and visual arts at La Cambre (Brussels) in 2016. When he launched his own line in 2018, Maitrepierre looked back at his experience in Gaultier’s atelier by acknowledging the importance of using his art to express views on contemporary society and by creating pieces which are not just clothes but veritable characters – each with its own story and its own costume. “One of the most important, and also enjoyable, aspects of creating a brand is understanding why and for who. For who am I creating these clothes? And why am I creating them in the first place? I had no interest in creating yet another fashion brand in order to make money. What I wanted to do was to share my vision. For this reason in all of my collections there must to be a story and there must be characters.” Maitrepierre defines his clothes today as somewhere between prêt-à-porter and couture. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so much, he started putting together his first crafty collection not while assisting Gualtier with his crazy-couture and storytelling outfits, but while consulting for Acne’s signature clean-cut minimalism. Two opposite labels, two very different roles: while the job at Gaultier was all about creativity, Acne taught him the basis of commercial thinking which is something that no designer, no matter how talented, can afford to ignore.
Besides Acne and Jean Paul Gaultier, Maitrepierre also worked for Chanel and Neith Nyer, but inspiration for his work doesn’t just come from the fashion world – art, literature and most particularly cinema also play a big part in the creation of his clothes/characters; Maitrepierre is also an actor and in 2018 he participated in Yann Gonzalez’s movie Knife+Heart, starring Vanessa Paradis. The American Library, located right under the Tour Eiffel, hosts a remarkable selection of old and vintage fashion magazines. Maitrepierre spent month digging through the archive, researching the tailoring techniques between the forties and the seventies, when clothes were draped directly on the models – every issue had images of clothes being put together directly on the body. The collection of magazines he found in his grandmother’s house did the rest: he started thinking of couture not just as beautiful clothes but as creating something for someone.
The late sixties marked the beginning of a cultural and social revolution and, arguably, the transition into contemporary society – the world as we know it. While the war in Vietnam had been decimating US boys for over fifteen years, students and young workers in most of the Western world were up on the barricades, protesting against everything their parents had created. “Everything went crazy, everything changed” says Maitrepierre; with his spring/summer 2020 collection he aimed at translating this change and this generational gap into the language of his peers: the passage from analog to digital, from real-life to virtual, ultimately “talking about haute couture with new words.” So we see contrasts, the opposition of very old school and very modern, bourgeois but in a funny way, sequins fabrics developed with digital prints, flowers and cats as a tribute to a vintage femininity deformed by graphic design, gender-fluid characters hitting the runway with a magnified version of Dior’s black cat-eye from the fifties and dresses which can all be worn in two or three different ways: “ Wear them however you want, be the person you want to be”. Gone are the days when it was up to the designer to decide how people would dress, gone are the days of young people doing what they are told. The notion of upcycling is important to Maitrepierre. He makes everything in Paris, working with discarded leather, silk, and lace from French luxury goods houses. He also finds it important to collaborate with different artisans and artist who can provide a less commercial input to his work. Sara Vercheval (formerly at Balenciaga) creates the graphics and Emile de Gorce Dumas the ceramic jewelry, designer Samudra Hartanto follows up on the collections while various Parisian sculptors contribute to the creation of Maitrepierre’s quirky shoes and sunglasses.
New times require new languages, not only in sartorial terms but also in communication. The catwalk, for example: can it still be considered contemporary or is it by now something that belongs to the past? several fashion designers today, both young and established ones, either skip fashion week altogether or chose alternative forms of showcasing their collections as they no longer feel represented by a format which was actually conceived a century ago. Of course economic reasons are often behind these kind of choices, but this just proves the point: for many brands catwalks have by now become more expensive than they are effective. Vanessa Friedman from the New York Times has been questioning the purpose of having multiple fashion weeks for some years now; while discussing the fashion world with Marco Bizzari (CEO of Gucci) for Muse Magazine, she did however vouch for the the runway show as something that still truly belongs to fashion culture. Maitrepierre is of a slightly different opinion: although appreciative of fashion shows he doesn’t really think that watching a few minutes up and down the runway before rushing to the next show on the schedule are enough to actually feel a collection, not today at least. His spring/summer 2020 show was topped with a fashion film: Mimesis Fashion Race, shot and created by French director Alexander Carril with sound design by Norman Levy.
The backstage part of a runway show is always very intense: “ There is creativity until the very last minute, things can change at all times. Before everything is just in my mind, it is only backstage before the show that everything comes together.”The video revolves around this concept of the backstage, with all the anxiety and absurdity which defines it: Three gameuses manipulate the models, subjecting them to the hard tests of final preparations a few minutes from the fateful hour of the parade. Reality is subverted: it is digital guiding analog, virtual guiding real life. The idea was to show the world of fashion in a more offbeat, humorous away by viewing it through a video game that models play remotely. Fashion is wild, sometimes grotesque and often scary, making fun of some old codes is a very contemporary way of tackling an unforgiving industry which has the bad habit of taking itself too seriously. But besides the humor, what Maitrepierre really wanted to do was to communicate his work better: “The catwalk is just too fast, you barely get to see the clothes. I wanted to tell the story behind the collection. My next show will also be different, more like an art exhibition, something that people can actually experience.”
Indeed Maitrepierre has a point, the times they are a’ changing, or at least they should be. Contemporary fashion calls for a different style, it is perceived in a different way, consumed in a different way and requires different production rules and new communication tools. For the young designer creativity is at the base of everything: “I don’t want to just make clothes, even because there is absolutely no need for them. My collections need to be creative, they need to have a vision. Otherwise it’s just pointless.”