Take a bow

It’s the end of an era as l’enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier marks his final walk down the runway

By Stephanie Rivers

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Published: Fri 22 Oct 2010, 9:33 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:28 PM

Jean Paul Gaultier’s final show for the House of Hermes gave us prancing horses, chandeliers, Birkin bags as clothing and iconic references that summed up all that is Hermes, signalling the end of one creative partnership and the start of a new one. Designer Christophe Lemaire has very large, creative shoes to fill.

The rumours had been circulating for quite sometime that Jean Paul Gaultier was leaving Hermes. The questions that filled most minds was why, or why now? Was the brand unhappy with his work? Why would they be, as they had become an editorial darling under Gaultier’s seven-year design reign? The accessories had longer wait lists than ever before and the company saw sales increase in record double-digit numbers. Perhaps it came down to the commercial viability, or lack thereof, of the ready-to-wear collections.

Although Hermes was profitable and a media success, the RTW was not a commercial success. For the CEO and the board, the question had to be what good is all the creativity if the RTW does not translate to the bottom line? In these days of dollars and cents obsession, seven years was enough time to see that investment come to fruition.

The move to hire Lemaire is more telling than one may think, as he was the creative director of Lacoste for eight years, a commercially successful brand, albeit not a luxury one. The shift drives home Hermes’s seriousness to be editorially and commercially successful — the balance being a tenuous struggle for any luxury brand, no matter its history. The first Hermes collection under Lemaire is due Spring 2011 for F/W 2011. Anticipate it to be very sportswear specific, helping the house fit the viable financial model it is seeking.

The appointment of Gaultier to the house in 2003 surprised many and sent shock waves reverberating wildly through fashion circles. An enfant terrible at the helm of such a prestigious house? What would he do, would it be more spectacle than craftsmanship? Thankfully, no. Gaultier, first and foremost, is an artisan and a grand storyteller whose unbridled passion for design and visual acumen, created some of the most distinctive and varied collections for the house to date. His F/W 2004 collection, like his last, put a super-luxurious interpretation on the house’s equestrian roots, creating chic velvet jodphurs, sheared mink jackets and blanket capes, that would be as much at home in Gstaad, as it would on any New York or Parisian Street.

The S/S 2011 collection, much like F/W 2004, was mesmerising in its understated beauty and super luxe elegance, with the horses adding a natural beauty that made it downright regal. It was visual genius that JPG used the most iconic of Hermes’s handbags — the Birkin — as a strapless bustier, proving that branding done right is instantly recognisable, regardless of its form. The creativity and whimsy of that look struck a deep chord about the designer’s understanding of the house, its wares and his ability to translate fantasy into a wondrous reality.

The warm colour palette of the S/S 2011 looks — cream, tan, toffee and russet — gave the collection an earthy feel that was offset and contrasted nicely with black. Jean Paul also incorporated the famous Hermes scarf into strapless tops, as well as dressage for ponytails. But the beauty was in the details: riding boots shone to perfection, harnesses and bits appeared in the form of belts, mini iconic handbags accessorised many of the looks, as did Spanish hats and horse blankets with fringe. The stiff-brimmed riding hats and long flowing skirts were reminiscent of Catherine Zeta Jones in Zorro — regal, beautiful and feminine.

There are too many collections to wax soliloquies upon here in this column but two need attention. His F/W 2010 collection, an ode to the British hit series The Avengers, was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Anglophiles: the umbrellas, the bowler hats, the dark hues reflecting the weather and the Savile Row tailoring; and his F/W 2009 Aviator collection, full of Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson references, brought to life in the form of headgear and bomber jackets. Both showcased his attention to detail, his ability to tell a cohesive story and the scale of his vision.

With his final walk down the runway, it marked the end of an era and of a fruitful collaboration between the designer and the brand. An end that left many full of anticipation for new changes ahead — and many with a slight wistfulness for what has been.

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