Jean Paul Gaultier

From men in skirts to Madonna's infamous conical bras, Jean Paul Gaultier's innovations have always pushed the conventional boundaries of fashion. In 1970, Pierre Cardin hired the 18-year-old, who had no formal training, after he received some promising sketches in the mail from him. Six years later, Gaultier launched his womenswear collection in Paris. His work has been described as "Frencher than French," and indeed there is an extreme enthusiasm and provocation in his clothes that can occasionally verge on caricature, though it is always married to exceptional technique.

Labeled an enfant terrible early on, he has designed collections based on Hasidic Jews and the sealskins of Inuits and showed T-shirts emblazoned with a crucified Christ. With his spiky bleached-blond hair and MTV-generation antics (he once sent disapproving editors live turkeys), he's cultivated a flamboyant public persona that was magnified when he co-hosted the nonsensical show Eurotrash in the nineties. Theatrics aside, Gaultier is credited with pioneering innerwear as outerwear, promoting ethnic and gender-bending dress, and popularizing the use of stretch fabrics in his signature skintight bodysuits.

In addition to womenswear, the house produces menswear, accessories, fragrances, and, since 1997, a couture collection, which may just be the designer's finest contribution to fashion. Heralded by the press as the "savior" of the dying trade, Gaultier wowed the industry with the imaginative and technical prowess of his fantastical designs. Dubbed the successor to Yves Saint Laurent, he not only took over the couturier's closing time slot during the shows but inherited Saint Laurent's best clients, including Catherine Deneuve. In 2000, the CFDA presented Gaultier with the International Award. Three years later, he assumed the post of creative director at Hermès, succeeding Martin Margiela.

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