In a room overlooking Yorkville in Toronto’s Hazelton Hotel, we met with boundary-pushing designer Jean Paul Gaultier to discuss two of his most iconic and enduring fragrances: Classique and Le Mâle. (The latter was created by now revered perfumer Francis Kurkdjian when he was just fresh out of school.) Here, five things we learned.
1. He didn’t set out to create an iconic scent.
“Not at all. It wasn’t on purpose,” says Gaultier. “I wanted only to make something that was different and I wanted it be tasty [i.e. addictive]—like with food, when you eat something, and you want to eat more, more, more.”
2. He originally wanted his debut fragrance to be unisex, but was advised against it.
“My first idea was to make a perfume for men and women but I didn’t do it,” says Gaultier. “They told me, ‘If, for example, your perfume has no success, what can you do after?’ I [would have done] men and women scents at the same time.” In 1994, a year after the launch of Classique, Calvin Klein came out with CK One, a now hugely popular unisex scent.
3. He had a great admiration for Madonna (who famously wore his cone bra on her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990).
“I admired the music and the voice, but also herself, her look, her beauty, her way of acting and way of directing a set. I saw that and I wanted to work with her,” says Gaultier. “She knew very precisely [what she wanted]. She is a businesswoman at the same time as an artist. She has all the character.”
4. He finds inspiration in theatre and film as well as daily life.
“Beauty can be everywhere,” says Gaultier, who was inspired by a can of cat food and the cylindrical markings it left behind to create the packaging for Classique and Le Male. “I love the contrast of something very industrial like the can with the body [fragrance bottle],” he says.
5. He isn’t done with fashion yet.
“I’m preparing something with fashion, but it’s a one-hour show. I’m working on it. It should come out next year,” says Gaultier. “In my collections, I presented them with cinematography. Even when I started, I was looking for the girls that were doing my collection to be like real girls—not like models. I like to show a different type of person. People that I am fascinated by, I like to show them as a character.”
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