When Jean Paul Gaultier announced, early September, that after over three decades of being fashion's Enfant Terrible, he would cease both his ready-to-wear collections to concentrate on couture and special projects, there was a collectif gasp of disbelief throughout. Telephone lines were burning up as would-be guests tried to secure, until the very last second, the precious - and no doubt now highly collectible - tricolor sash emblazoned with Miss Jean Paul Gaultier 2015 that served as the invitation to the 2015 RTW show.
So in front of the Grand Rex cinema, there was the expected crush of guests and invitation-less hopefuls trying to get in, elbowing each other in their bid to get closer to the crimson halls of this sumptuous movie theatre as hundreds of rubberneckers stood outside, causing a massive traffic jam.
Inside, a concession served champagne and popcorn as a soundtrack that felt like a medley of his shows tracks over the years poured from the speakers of the monumental main room. Within half an hour, the Orchestra, Mezzanine and Balcony were packed to the rafters with late comers dashing to grab the few seats left. Unending flashes greeted the most famous faces here tonight. Catherine Deneuve, Boy George (who'd said earlier in the day he'd come in town specially for his friend's professional send-off), Pierre Cardin, a cohort of designers like Alexander Wang, Anthony Vaccarello, Albert Elbaz and many, many more turned up for a show that could be nothing short of spectacular.
His shows have always been Francophile, occasionally to the point of being a bit lost in translation. This final one was a high-voltage parody of the Miss France pageant, with Rossy de Palma as Madame de Palmay, a pastiche of Madame de Fontenay, the behatted former chair of the French "Miss" committee who is perenially clad in black and white. It was presented by radio journalist Alex Taylor in perfect French and English.
Miss Marinière reprised his iconic Breton stripe as his first tableau folded and unfolded their legs in rythm. RuPaul has always said it best, "you better work!" And work it did. Madame de Palmay ripped off her prim suit to reveal Rossy de Palma in a sheer, cone-bra bustier to close the "Miss Hommage à Madame de Palmay" group. Miss Tour de France and Miss Lucha Libre took sportswear garments to the next level. Those giant "Loco Logo" and "Jean Paul Gaultier" sliding around the silhouette, or the hooded dress with its Lucha Libre mask trim were definitely with it. Miss Météo and their sweetness, Miss Vintage with silver haired foxes, Miss Femme de Footballeur of the trashiest glitz... What could be added to describe Miss Smoking, if not that his talent at splicing masculine and feminine are stellar, embodied by a half-cape smoking jacket and more. If anything, we editors are a narcissistic bunch. So Miss Rédactrice de Mode was an absolute kick as JPG paid homage to six of the editors who have supported him through his career. Backstage, Stéphane Marais (make-up) and Odile Gilbert (hair) crafted perfect model replicas of Emmanuelle Alt (Vogue), Babeth Djian (Numero), Grace Coddington (Vogue), Franca Sozzani (Vogue Italia), Carine Roitfeld (CR Fashion Book) and of course, Lindsay Wixson as Suzy Menkes, russet pompadour and all. Their current, but also former publications floated past on a giant screen.
At the end, it was down to Anne Cleveland and Coco Rocha, both in blush pink cone bustiers, to battle it out for the title of Miss Jean Paul Gaultier 2015. Rocha won out, staging a fainting episode, before the tableau erupted into plumes of golden confetti as the man of the hour appeared. Jean Paul Gaultier, beaming and recieving the thunderous applause coming from the stage as well as the theatre.
What the clothes all had in common is that they celebrated the style and the groundbreaking designs that are the marks of Jean Paul Gaultier throughout the years. The fact that masculine-feminine, sportswear, underwear as outerwear, even the trashy glam seen on his WAGs, all these now accepted and perhaps even overused in fashion, is a testament to the subversive power that emanates from the designer. And for those who felt that he had been, in recent seasons, drawing too much on what he'd once been, it was a subtle raspberry to remind that fashion is but a cycle.
Sadness and nostalgia were not to be felt tonight. Unlike Yves Saint-Laurent or Christian Lacroix's retreats from the fashion scene, this was not a star going out in the creative sky; it went supernova. Although curiosities were whetted as to whether the Spanish business group Puig, who bought the majority stake from Hermès in 2011, had pushed to this conclusion, there were no answers to be had tonight. Not that Gaultier demured when asked the question, but he continued to affirm the sentiment he had expressed in his open letter to WWD. "I'm happy. This brought me joy, experience, discoveries," he said backstage to the flock of editors around him after the show. "It is not a sad moment, I am stopping to do other things. I don't want this rythm anymore." And that brought another question: could he be the first designer to publicly, and without the perception of a disgrace, be the first designer to refuse the maddening cycle of collections?
"[Jean Paul Gaultier] has nothing to prove," George had said earlier at a previous show. "People like him are lucky because they are free." Come January, it'll be time to see what JPG has done with that freedom. Ce n'est qu'un au-revoir, as the French say.