Photography by Guillaume Thomas
Videography by Gianluca Matarrese
A name that always comes to mind during Haute Couture week is Jean-Paul Gaultier. Ever since breaking into the fashion world as Pierre Cardin's assistant in the 1970s, the French designer has pushed boundaries with his playful aesthetic, ultimately building a reputation as the industry's enfant terrible, and one of the most consistently exciting shows in Paris. This season, the intrigue has been higher than ever, as Gaultier celebrated his 50th anniversary in fashion — an incredible milestone by itself, which the designer decided to make even more monumental by retiring from haute couture altogether.
The show that unfolded seemed to be more of a massive fête than anything else, with house staples including corsets, lingerie, bullet bras, fabulous tailoring, and garter belts defining the final collection. The show included many of Gaultier's biggest muses over the years, and in between exhibiting the looks were star-studded performances including models mourning in a funeral performance and Boy George covering "Back to Black" by Amy Winehouse.
Upon arriving, each guest received a letter in which Gaultier wrote: “I think fashion has to change. There are too many clothes, and too many clothes that are useless. Do not throw them away; recycle them!” Fitting the nostalgic mood of his final runway spectacle, that's exactly what he did, pulling from his archive to revive iconic styles and using previous collections to create his first (and seemingly last) upcycled haute couture collection. Guests couldn’t help but associate the upcycled theme of his goodbye with ongoing discussions surrounding fashion's role in the climate crisis.
Witnesses to the luxurious cabaret watched in awe as Bella Hadid, Rossy de Palma, Coco Rocha, Anna Cleveland, and so many more notable faces took the stage in one of the 250 looks from Jean-Paul Gaultier’s last couture collection. However, one appearance stood out among the rest: Dita Von Teese, the "Queen of Burlesque" and longtime friend of Gaultier who has previously walked in five of the designer's haute couture collections and returned to make her fashion friend's swan song that much more of a show.
Behind the scenes, few know Gaultier the way Von Teese does. With the help of some exclusive visuals by Gianluca Matarrese and Guillaume Thomas, we went behind the scenes of the hotly anticipated show and got the burlesque icon's perspective while we were at it. Dressed in a risqué peach ensemble that featured several chunky belts, Von Teese shared her thoughts on meeting Gaultier for the first time, preparing for the monumental show, and how to party with the Parisian fashion crowd.
Imagine I know nothing about you. Who is Dita Von Teese?
I'm mostly known as a burlesque dancer, but also a lingerie designer with my own brand. I’ve been a pinup model since the early '90s, reviving the scene of burlesque and pinup glamour.
Tell me about your earliest memories of JPG. How has your relationship grown over the years?
I’m not sure. I think it was the early '90s? It’s one of the first things that turned me on to vintage lingerie. I remember scouring vintage stores for bullet bras and peach-coloured girdles, things I could wear to emulate that look. I remember dressing up as Madonna once in the early ’90s and fashioning my own satin black bullet bra with cardboard cones.
My relationship with Jean-Paul Gaultier and the brand began in the early 2000s. I was friends with Ali Mahdavi and Suzanne von Aichinger, who is one of [Gaultier's] most legendary muses and at the time was working alongside him on the couture collections. I met Jean-Paul in Paris with my ex-husband Marilyn Manson, and he immediately knew about me and what I’ve done before. He had a copy of my Playboy magazine from America in his office. I remember he and Suzanne told me I could come into the atelier and borrow any of the looks that I wanted. Absolutely anything for whatever I wanted, even to the grocery store, I believe they said. Around that time, I was asked to do my first big editorial, and it was overseen by Suzanne. We went into the archives and tried on all the greatest looks. It was divine.
Where were you when you were asked to be a part of Jean-Paul Gaultier's last couture show? What was your immediate reaction?
The craziest thing is no one knew! There was no indication that this was his last couture show. The only way that we all found out [was when] we saw the social media post that Jean-Paul made. I was kind of surprised, but everything has an end, doesn’t it?
What moment did you cherish the most about the show?
My favourite moment of the show was seeing everyone on stage together for Jean-Paul. That meant something to him. Seeing all of his legendary muses, collaborators, and all of his favourite models, past and present, there on stage all at once at the end. It was very exciting.
You exude so much confidence and powerful energy. What is your advice to people who want to feel the same way?
I was a very shy girl from a farming town in Michigan, and the way I found my confidence was dressing in vintage clothes and high heels, wearing red lipstick, dying my hair black, and wearing it like a movie star from the '40s. That’s how I found my strength and confidence. I didn’t feel that any other time in my life until when I embraced glamour. I made a choice to try and bring that into my life every day. I [realised that] these makeup and hair artists, stylists, and people who work on creating glamour are not performing magic — and even magic is just about performing technique. So I thought that I would learn to do it myself.
I wrote a 400-page boook about beauty and glamour and how to get it. That's just been the way for me. Also, with my burlesque shows that I present and produce with lots of other performances with different ages, sizes, ethnicities, and beauty, it's important to have a platform for people to have striptease about not just what I look like or pinup girls, but about diversity to inspire other people.
You looked so stunning walking down the runway. What was going on in your head as you walked out?
I really tried to focus on just enjoying the moment. I have to say, one of my corset laces came untied so it was tickling my leg and I remember walking over a broken high heel shoe and just trying to keep my focus while wondering, “What is stuck to my leg? What is on my leg?! What is that, what is that?”
Walking on the runway is super fun, but it's also showbiz. You’re constantly thinking about what you’re doing, like "Am I posing well for the photographers?" But also giving the audience a show. Also, never look down into the audience! You keep your chin up and look into that big beautiful spotlight.
You spend quite some time here in Paris, how does the city make you feel?
The city of Paris always made me feel like my work was embraced before it was in America. I kind of feel like Josephine Baker, who came to Paris and found success before she could find it in other places, even her own home. It took me a long time to find success in America, and I feel like Paris was the first place to understand me and see my work as legitimate entertainment.
What's your favourite thing to do off-duty with friends during Haute Couture Week?
I love to just go to dinner with my friends and do a little shopping for my favourite things. Not fashion things or anything, but [I love to] pick up my favourite tea from Mariage Frére or go visit a cute boutique for makeup. I rarely ever go fashion shopping in Paris, actually. It's quite hard to want to do that once you’ve been to all these beautiful Haute Couture shows. Fashion isn’t really on my mind when shopping. I have a favourite art gallery, Galerie de Souzy, that I like to visit because I collect paints from this artist called Jean-Gabriel Domergue. Other than that, I just relax, spend time in my room, and catch up on my sleep.
So much work and prep went into this extravaganza! Between the fittings, practice, and day of show... When did you feel the most overwhelmed?
I was a little bit stressed out during my first fitting with Jean-Paul. I was very jet-lagged and didn’t feel myself. He was asking me my opinion about the hem length of the corset, but it was hard for me to really know because he’s the master. I felt strange asserting my opinion.
Speaking of the fitting, how did you feel when you first saw the Jean-Paul Gaultier look you would adorn for this monumental moment in fashion history?
I was very excited for a few different reasons. One of my favourite signatures of Jean-Paul Gaultier, which is also a signature of '30s- and '40s-era lingerie, is this beautiful peachy pink colour. It is one of my favourite parts of Jean-Paul’s obsessions. I was extremely sentimental that Mr. Pearl wasn’t there. For most of Gaultier’s shows, I wore extreme corset looks, designed by Jean-Paul but created by Mr. Pearl. For each of those times, he would put me through proper training for the waist-cinching. It could be very difficult but very satisfying to work with the universally known master of the corset, but the upside is that I was able to eat whatever I wanted. But Mr. Pearl was definitely truly missed.
The day of the show you had a crazy morning, right? Tell me what happened.
The day of the show, call time was for 2 pm and my alarm didn’t go off. I woke up to my phone ringing.. At 2pm telling me that my taxi was here at the hotel. I leaped out of bed, jumped in the shower, and rushed to get to the theatre. I hate being late for things. It was a bit crazy but I still got there six hours before the show so it was fine. I was in such a jetlagged haze — not knowing which way is up or down, still half asleep, trying to wake myself up. I honestly don’t remember what was going through my mind at the time.
How was this show different from any other Gaultier show you've walked?
I’ve been a special guest, the star, or the performer for his shows before. The most notable difference would definitely be the diversity and all of the different stars from Gaultier’s past and present together, from models to dancers to just muses of Jean-Paul. I was backstage with Karen Olsen and we were making a joke how we both aren’t the short ones anymore, although she is a bit taller than I am, and a genuine model! We both were known for being the short “special guest” of Jean-Paul's shows. At one point, we were standing next to Karlie Kloss, and she’s so tall. We were both these little, tiny, peach-corseted women.
After the star-studded show, backstage was insane. How did you feel?
It was super celebratory backstage. There were people who were emotional and crying. There may never be another genuine platform like the one Jean-Paul created for diversity and inclusion in a fashion show. At least not in the way Jean-Paul has, because he’s always done it in a natural and authentic way. He genuinely sees beauty in people.
The after-party was so much fun. Did you enjoy it?
I wasn’t there for long, I dipped in and out. I mostly hung around Jean-Paul and watched him do his interviews until late in the night backstage. I hung out with Suzanne and Marc Orsotelli, who’s been doing my hair all week during the shows. I just really enjoyed being at the theatre. Wasn’t it glam? I didn’t want to leave!
Did you talk to Gaultier after the show? What were his thoughts? How did he feel?
I spoke to Jean-Paul briefly for a bit before his interview. He was in such an upbeat mood and kept saying to me, “It's not the end! There are other things, like making more shows and more things like the Fashion Freak Show!”
Being a long-time muse of Gaultier's and walking in many of his shows, how do you feel about this being the last?
There's a silver lining to everything. Everything has to have an end, and it’s better to go out on a high note and to decide for yourself the right time to stop doing something a certain way. Although I’m sad about it, it’s very inspiring to watch how he did it and how he surprised everyone with this show being the last.