For his first couture presentation in 1997 Gaultier recreated the atmosphere of the old couture salons, packing his audience into tight rows of spindly gilt chairs, as the models walked around them carrying numbered cards for each outfit. Although each piece was made to the highest standards of couture, it wasn’t lost on those in attendance that Gaultier was poking fun at the couture establishment. It takes someone with a deep understanding of couture to be able to sustain such a spoof. It also bares to keep in mind that together with Lacroix, Gaultier is one of the last couturier’s currently working today to have trained under the old system, having apprenticed with Pierre Cardin. But the significance of couture is that it also established Gaultier as a serious designer in the eyes of those who saw him as fashion’s court jester in the past.
Although Gaultier’s atelier is a small operation when compared to the bigger houses, with around a dozen seamstresses, he managed to put together a formidable team early on. There was Madame Jacqueline, the head of the Atelier flou, working with soft fabrics and evening dresses. She started with Dior in the 40’s, and later worked with Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel. Then there is Madame Anise, the head of the tailoring atelier, who comes with years of experience after working for Saint Laurent and Givenchy. Together with their skills and knowledge they were able to tackle Gaultier’s most outrageous and technically challenging requests. Gaultier also reestablished the practice in couture of giving each outfit a poetic name to describe it, as well as resurrecting the tradition of the house model. Today models Suzanne Von Aichinger and Julia Schonberg have become part of Gaultier’s image and make a regular appearance at all of his runway shows.
During her tenure as directrice of Gualtier’s couture salon until 2004, Khelfa helped influence what would become many of the designer’s signature pieces in his couture collection. If one pays close attention to his shows each season, you will find variations on the trench coat, the corset and the pantsuit. The later is arguably one of Gualtier’s best sellers today, and a linchpin of Farida Khelfa’s own personal style.
Clockwise: Looks from Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring 2003, Spring 2001, Fall 2002, and Fall 2001 haute couture collections.
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