Gaultier lights up Paris fashion week with provocative ode to smoking

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PARIS — With sultry tuxedos and a gown that appeared to waft down the catwalk like cigarette smoke, French designer Jean Paul Gaultier celebrated smoking in all its forms on Wednesday in a fashion show filled with tongue-in-cheek digs at overly rigid attitudes.

Reinterpretations of “Le Smoking” — or tuxedos for women popularized by late French couturier Yves Saint Laurent in the 1960s — dominated the Haute Couture collection, with black and white combinations of jackets and ruffled dresses for instance.

The designer took smoke as his inspiration for a see-through dress decked out in swirling embellishments, or a wedding gown with a featherlight, waspy train that looked like it could vanish into thin air as it twirled on the runway.

Gaultier, the self-style “enfant terrible” of the fashion world, was also deliberately harking back to a period when smoking was more widely acceptable.

“I don’t smoke, but I was always surrounded by people that were smoking,” Gaultier said after the show in Paris.

“I don’t say ‘don’t smoke or smoke,’ it’s only that people should do what they want.”

Smoking was banned in public places in France in 2006, echoing clampdowns in many other countries by authorities for health reasons.

The flamboyant designer showed his support for a Florida teenager who was made to cover her nipples in bandages at her high school for not wearing a bra under her sweatshirt. Lizzy Martinez, 17, made headlines in April when she said teachers told her to wear a second shirt and put plasters on her nipples after they claimed other students had been distracted by her breasts.

Gaultier said it was a “scandalous” that a girl should be treated that way, and used his collection to support her.

He told AFP that if “men had the right to go bare-chested why not women?”

And to hammer home the point he had a barechested male and female model walk the catwalk, each wearing see-through police visors with the legend, “Free the nipple” in French and English.

“You can see the nipples and the jewelry but you can’t touch,” he said. “I don’t say that you must bare your breasts. I am very much for corsets and bras, clearly I like them,” said the designer who came up with Madonna’s famous conical bustiers. “But a woman should be allowed to not to wear a bra under her T-shirt,” he added.

Gaultier played with nipple visibility in four other looks in his autumn-winter collection that was a typically playful celebration of liberty and transgression.

“We are living in a quite policed world, and I was looking for a pretext to show freedom for all,” he said. “I wanted to show that you can walk around with bare breasts without be attacked or aggressed. It’s all about freedom to enjoy yourself and not take life too seriously.”

Gaultier’s couture brand is owned by private Spanish fashion and fragrance group Puig.

Paris Haute Couture Week — where a select club of fashion houses present their one-of-a-kind creations and showcase some of their most elaborate styles — ran until July 5. — Reuters/AFP