Fashion

Jean Paul Gaultier Reminisces with Rossy de Palma

Talking theater and showbiz, the two reflect on Gaultier's impressive repertoire of work.
Reading time 5 minutes
Illustration by Spiros Halaris

From haute couture runway shows to complete ready-to-wear collections, Jean Paul Gaultier’s brilliant touch has certainly made a lasting impression on the fashion world. While the visionary’s success is monumental in his life story, there is so much more to the controversial designer that defines his life and career. With a life worthy of a full musical production, Gaultier brought his past to the present with the celebratory staging of Fashion Freak Show, a remarkable retrospective on the professional’s wild life. The biographical performance features catwalks, choreographed dances, musical numbers, and comedy skits, all of which contribute to Gaultier’s story. Rossy de Palma guest-starred in the show for a brief period as a commemoration of her longtime relationship with Gaultier, having walked in his shows for over 20 years. We got the duo back together to talk about Fashion Freak Show and reminisce on their times together. Read what the pair had to say below.    

 

Rossy de Palma: How does it feel to realize a childhood dream with the Fashion Freak Show? To breathe feathers and sequins?

Jean Paul Gaultier: It feels amazing, out of this world, a dream come true. Plus, it’s a success—the audience loves it. To be honest, not in my wildest dreams did I think that my show would play for nine months at the Folies Bergère. But I have to say that I owe this success to my friends like you, Rossy, who have believed in me and wanted to be part of this adventure from the very beginning. You play the teacher who punishes me after I sketch the showgirls in fishnets and feathers that I had seen on TV, showgirls who were from the Folies Bergère. Somehow, we have come full circle.

RDP: How have you dealt with revealing your life and telling your intimate story through the show?

JPG:  I wanted to tell a story with my show, and what story do I know better than my own? But I didn’t want it to be nostalgic or sad, I wanted everyone to have fun and leave the theater happy. I talk about Francis, my boyfriend who died of AIDS in 1990, but immediately after, I show images from amfAR and other organizations who fight against AIDS. I make a celebration of life with it. Even Line Renaud, the great lady of the French revue and the vice-president of SIDACTION, has a cameo in the show. I also show London, voguers and sapeurs, the corset, Pierre Cardin (who gave me my first job in 1970), the pitfalls of today’s excessive plastic surgery…. I tell the story of my life, but through it, I also narrate the last 50 years of our pop history.

RDP: Do you feel at home in the world of theater and showbiz?

JPG: I found my vocation through cinema, through a film called Falbalas (Paris Frills) by Jacques Becker. There was a fashion show in it, and I knew immediately that that is what I wanted to be—a couturier. So, I have always seen fashion as something alive, as a show. Clothes on a hanger never interested me. And very early on, I started treating my fashion shows as “shows.” I would have very elaborate choreographies and sets, I would have live performers. Once, I did a show on a skating rink, the models walked on ice in flat shoes—and only at the end of the show when a professional skating couple arrived did the audience understand that it was actually an ice rink! I have also had the amazing opportunity to work with people that I admire, like you, who I saw in one of Almodovar’s films and asked to model for me and walk in my fashion show. I have made costumes for three of Almodovar’s films, I have worked with Peter Greenaway and Luc Besson, in ballet with Regine Chopinot and Angelin Preljocaj, I have been in Eurotrash with Antoine de Caunes. So yes, even though my love is fashion, I love the theater and showbiz almost as much.

RDP: When are you going to do your biopic? And what will be my role?

JPG: If there is a film to be made, I would not want to be involved. Better to do it without me. But if it happens, I will insist that you have one of the leading roles.

RDP: Thank you for letting me be a part of your show as the schoolteacher, but also as the showgirl. You let me realize my dream of having a palm tree on my head—Rossy de Palma with a palm.

JPG: You are the best, Rossy. I loved your performance as a guest star of the Fashion Freak Show, but also I never tire of watching you, night after night, as my schoolteacher. You are a joy to have around and a gift to us.

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