Vintage Jean Paul Gaultier Is Everywhere Right Now — But Why?
Like Scorpio Season and Jared Leto's hair length, "It" labels are cyclical. So it's exciting that after 40 years in the game, Jean Paul Gaultier is once again the flex for celebrities, editors, stylists, and the social media ring that rules them all. Over the past few weeks alone, we've seen Gaultier shoutouts from pop star Dua Lipa, Drag Race royalty Violet Chachki, and, of course, The Euphorians — most notably Barbie Ferreira and Alexa Demie, who wear the French designer's coveted bodycon pieces from the late '90s the way most of us wear sweatpants for Zoom meetings. Even Rihanna has given JPG her stamp of approval.
But here's what's amazing: Unlike other major heritage brands, such as Chanel and Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier had no show at Paris Fashion Week. It doesn't have a giant new ad campaign, a current 'celebrity ambassador,' or even a particularly big social media following (on Instagram, the count is up to 3.3 million, whereas competitors like Versace are at 26.4 million. And don't even get us started on Gucci...). So, how is Gaultier pulling off this fashion domination? Through a holy trinity of fashion history, pop culture, and being, as the kids say, Extremely Online.
First, the history. Before the letters JPG made us think of .jpg files, we associated them with the famous designer, a fabric wizard with a knack for corsetry. This skill came in handy circa 1990, when Madonna wore his infamous cone bustier onstage, thus creating one of the most memorable style moments in pop music. 32 years later, that bustier is still touring museums — it's on display in Madrid right now — and Gaultier's legacy is knotted up as tightly as his signature bodices. But that magic didn't stop with satin boobs. Gaultier also made Milla Jovovich's spacey costumes for The Fifth Element, Dita von Tease's striptease couture looks, and the dress Carrie Bradshaw wears while trying (and failing) to date Mr. Big for the very first time. By Y2K, Gaultier had built a reputation and a name ready to stand the test of time, and burnished his own as the creative director of Hermes…right when the Birkin bag went from a discrete symbol of wealth to a pop culture obsession.
Coincidence? Not really.
Speaking of pop culture obsessions, Gaultier's recent mega-resurgence is smack in the middle of multiple TV phenomena: Euphoria, And Just Like That, and Bridgerton. On the Euphoria front, costume designer Heidi Bivens has been fueling the '90s obsession of the show's Gen Z characters with vintage pieces, like a patchwork kimono (on Zendaya) and the brand's cling-wrap tops and dresses from Gaultier's 1995 and 1999 collections. And, while Euphoria's girls wear Gaultier's sex-positive swaths of couture gauze, Carrie Bradshaw once again proved to be a fan of the designer in Sex and the City's reboot, And Just Like That, gracing our screens in a statement-making ensemble from JPG's 1997 Spring Collection.
Bridgerton's floaty corsetry (created by lingerie legend Mr. Pearl) also continues to power a mainstream resurgence of bodices. The pieces are now seen all over the runways and at fast fashion meccas like Urban Outfitters, H&M, Free People, etc. — which might explain why some are reaching into the archives for an extra-special, vintage Gaultier creation.
Then, there are the Divine Sisters of K — Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, Kendall and Kylie Jenner — who serve as default style sparkplugs for most of social media's neon nymphettes. They began wearing Gaultier's most va-voom pieces around 2018, along with other contemporary fashion icons like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, FKA Twigs, Miley Cyrus, and Bella Hadid. Why did they choose Gaultier when they could wear literally anything? Well, looking sexy always sells, but grounding your thirst trap in history, craftsmanship, and Parisian luxury? Well, that gives these fashion moments a purpose beyond simply 'being hot.'
That brings us to the last piece of the JPG puzzle: Gaultier is everywhere because Mr. Gaultier and his team are marketing geniuses. When it comes to his actual collections, Gaultier is using the Spiderman school of world domination, inviting buzzy designers, like Balmain's Olivier Roustieg (who created Beyoncé's internet-breaking Coachella outfits), to "take over" his couture atelier for a season. With this method, Gaultier the label separates itself from Gaultier the guy, and the 69-year-old designer becomes the fashion version of Tobey Maguire, passing his main character energy to Y/Project's Glenn Martens and Sacai's Chitose Abe — much like the way Disney cast Andrew Garfield and then Tom Holland (and, hopefully soon, a girl, right? Right???)
Many designers are getting into the "metaverse" (there's even a metaverse fashion week now), but Gaultier doesn't need it, because he's creating his own multiverse in real life. Gaultier the brand is existing in multiple fashion narratives at once, and bending the rules of what high fashion can be in the process. Meanwhile, the actual Jean Paul Gaultier goes on UK morning shows to talk about $20 sweaters.
If you're looking to add some authentic Gaultier to your own wardrobe, you've got a few options at various price points. On the (way, way) high end, original Gaultier corset dresses are currently going for $20k at trusted resale hubs like 1st Dibs and Vestiaire Collective, while ″plain″ bustiers command upwards of $2,500. The sheer graphic pieces made popular by Calabasas aristocracy are around $600 on TheRealReal, and even then, they sell out quickly. (eBay and Depop also have options, though you'll need more time and risk tolerance to score them. However, if you're one of those shoppers who thinks of secondhand fashion as a giant treasure hunt, go forth!)
There's also the current Gaultier collection, which includes many sheer graphic options that echo the originals and come in a wider variety of sizes. And the brand even has its own shoppable vintage archive, with plans to create a rental hub in the future. Alternatively, fans might enjoy a bodice by newer, female-founded labels like Saint Sintra, KNWLS or Miaou, or want to check out the smart denim version at Diesel created by Glenn Martens — AKA the "guest" designer behind JPG's January couture collection.
And so, the Gaultier Multiverse continues…