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Gaultier: A modest provocateur who might be slowing down

By Jim Boulden, CNN
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
  • CNN's Jim Boulden sat down with designer Jean Paul Gaultier to talk to him about his career
  • Gaultier said he did not sell any garments from his first two fashion shows
  • "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier; From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk" opens in London

London (CNN) -- It is rare for me to attend a retrospective of someone's passion, their life's work, while chatting to that person amid that work.

But that's what happened when I met the friendly and very talkative Jean Paul Gaultier. He gave me 15 minutes of his time, surrounded by some 165 garments stretching throughout his 38 years as a fashion designer.

I told his PR person I needed five minutes, she told me Gaultier would chat too much to fit that window. She was correct.

Jean Paul Gaultier: 38 years in fashion Jean Paul Gaultier: 38 years in fashion
Jean Paul Gaultier: 38 years in fashion
Gaultier: 38 years in fashion Gaultier: 38 years in fashion

"The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier; From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk" is open now and runs through the summer at London's Barbican center.

I started my interview by delicately pointing out retrospectives tend to come when someone is ready to retire, to slow down.

I was surprised he agreed.

"Of course I want you to say that. I feel the same," the 61-year-old Gaultier exclaimed with a big grin on his face. He stressed he still has to produce clothes for eight shows a year, but that it is time to slow down. From now on, Gaultier told me, he might only do one show a year.

"It's a lot, a lot, a lot. So, it's true, I have arrived at a point where I can see the work I have done, you know. And I am still doing, but maybe I will restrain [it] a little."

Gaultier also surprised me by insisting he is not an artist, though he said he can be inspired by art. I would say his tartan punk, his Madonna Blond Ambition Tour costumes, and his chic rabbi garment from the 1993 collection that caused outrage could very much be seen as art.

Exhibition curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot agreed.

"When you see the work, some of his dresses, I think it is art," Loriot said. Pointing to a leopard skin dress from the Russian collection of 1997 as an example, Loriot added: "I think you can have the same emotion when you see haute couture as a sculpture or a painting."

Gaultier told me he did not sell any garments from his first two shows. Then, a piece sold from his third collection in 1976. At that time, his focus was Brit Punk and some bands would buy his clothes without his knowledge, Gaultier said. He'd realize only when seeing the video.

Of course, that was not the case with the likes of Madonna and Kylie Minogue, who have proudly warn his creations on stage.

And paid for them, if Gaultier is to be believed. He insists he never gives his clothes away to gain publicity. "Honestly, I think I am of the generation that, you know, the people that have the money to pay should pay."

Gaultier says he's no businessman, but that sounds like good business practice. "It was very good to have clothes that sell. For me the purpose was to sell, even if it looked sometime provocative, I didn't do it to show my own fantasy, some fantasy, or to show art."

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