Supreme has revealed its latest high-fashion collaboration, this time with famed Parisian designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Gaultier is best known for his ready-to-wear label and couture collections of the ’80s, ’90s, and mid-’00s, as well as his seven-year tenure as creative director of Hermès.
The new Supreme drop is strong, one that has translated elements of Gaultier’s legendary design philosophy into a palatable range of core streetwear and a bogo-fied edition of his iconic Le Male fragrance.
After learning his trade under the tutelage of Pierre Cardin, Gaultier showed his first collection in 1976. A young Martin Margiela was watching and later gushed to Vogue, “I was seized by an excitement I had never felt before.” Nine years later, Gaultier hired Margiela as an assistant. The Belgian designer would eventually make fashion history of his own, and two years under Gaultier helped to foster that.
Gaultier earned his moniker as fashion’s enfant terrible with a procession of irreverent collections, often reacting to the world around him with devious alacrity. For Spring 2005, against the backdrop of France’s national debate on gay marriage, editors were invited not to a fashion show but to a “wedding,” with same-sex models walking down the “aisle” in a collection of kilts, loose satin tailoring, neon sportswear, and rusty orange denim.
Today, this brand of social justice activism, or “wokeness,” has been commodified by brands for commercial gain (take Dior’s $710 “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirt, for example). But Gaultier has been challenging societal perceptions since the beginning. He has used diverse models on his runways, including older men, those with heavily pierced and tattooed bodies, and plus-sized model Crystal Renn, who closed his SS06 show.
Speaking to Dazed in 2013, Gaultier said, “I don’t want to have just one specific image of a woman in my shows. I want to present what really exists. And the same for men.”
Exemplifying this mindset is Gaultier’s famous SS91 show, which featured models of all sizes, ages, and ethnicities in a jubilant celebration of diversity. Nearly three decades later, some contemporary brands still struggle to diversify their casting to such a degree.
Of all of Gaultier’s muses, including shock-rocker Marilyn Manson and Gossip front-woman Beth Ditto, none have been more influential than Madonna. The Queen of Pop’s unforgettable conical bra corset was designed by Gaultier for her 1990 Blond Ambition tour, playing up perfectly to the singer’s provocative image.
The lingerie style was first shown on the Gaultier runway in 1982, but the cone bra was actually first fashioned by the designer out of newspaper for his childhood teddy Nana in the ’60s. The look was modified several times after its (real) debut and stands as arguably Gaultier’s most iconic(al) creation. Appropriately, the Gaultier x Supreme lookbook is fronted by Madonna’s daughter Lourdes Leon.
Gaultier’s willingness to shock and innovate is reflected in fashion moments that grab headlines today. When you think about Jaden Smith donning womenswear items for a Louis Vuitton campaign in 2016, look back to 1998, when David Beckham was photographed in a Gaultier sarong while out with wife Victoria, only to be met with a mix of intrigue and derision. You could say Gaultier and Beckham walked so Smith could run.
Equally, Chris Tucker’s wild looks as Ruby Rhod in Luc Besson’s 1997 sci-fi extravaganza The Fifth Element were a drag-style highlight in a film laden with eye-popping Gaultier costumes.
Among the standouts in the Gaultier x Supreme collection are the three-piece pinstripe suit, an item that doesn’t only indulge our collective impulse to “dress up a bit” this summer, but also highlights Supreme’s knack for impressive details — in this case, the zipped pockets. Other highlights are the decadent faux fur plaid coat, the printed “Fuck Racism” jacket and jeans two-piece set, and the leather holster made in collaboration with Schott.
But could the collection be a little more Gaultier? The designer’s famous penchant for Breton sailor-striped shirts — inspired by his mother decking him out in marinière stripes as a kid and the gay sailor in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1982 film Querelle — became a signature look, embracing male sexuality and form when it debuted in Gaultier’s 1983 Depuis collection. Surely a Breton box logo tee would have been a sellout had it been in the collection. There was also ample opportunity to evoke Gaultier’s transgressive side with a Supreme-branded man-skirt.
Is the streetwear world ready for such things? Who knows? But has Supreme ever prioritized being “appropriate”?
Still, in his sense of political defiance and willingness to challenge society’s perceived norms, Gaultier is a perfect match for Supreme, which adds the designer to a progressively impressive list of high-fashion collaborators, including COMME des GARÇONS, Louis Vuitton, and Thom Browne.