Jan 23, 2020
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Gaultier’s ‘Children’ Are Happy for Him

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PARIS — In the hours after the model Coco Rocha danced an Irish jig on the runway Wednesday night, several people approached her to compliment the performance. Some seemed surprised she could dance like that, which in turn surprised Ms. Rocha.

“I guess they weren’t there for the first one,” the 31-year-old Canadian model said.

Thirteen years ago, she introduced her jig at Jean Paul Gaultier’s fall 2007 runway show. She was already a rising star, but her long-limbed high kicks became a viral fashion moment — pre-Instagram, when viral fashion moments weren’t just discharged into an infinite stream.

A few months ago, Ms. Rocha said, Mr. Gaultier asked her to perform the jig again at his couture presentation in January, in honor of his 50th year in fashion. She didn’t realize then that Mr. Gaultier was planning it as his final show. She learned the news of his runway retirement along with everyone else, she said, five days before the show, via his social media accounts.

In his announcement, Mr. Gaultier promised the night would be “quite a party with many of my friends, and we’re gonna have fun until very very late.”

That promise was fulfilled, though the fun was imbued with a bit of sorrow for the end of Gaultier’s era.

Ms. Rocha, for one, teared up at the after-party, held in the foyer of the Théâtre du Châtelet which had hosted the show. She was describing Mr. Gaultier as a father figure who had orchestrated what she called the “special moments” in her career. Like the 2007 jig, during which, Ms. Rocha recalled, the then-teenager was “terrified” of falling into Anna Wintour’s lap.

Later that year, when Mr. Gaultier took Ms. Rocha as his date to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala, she felt “just like a little girl in a dress.”

“But he didn’t leave my side,” she said. “He’s been taking care of me ever since.”

Mr. Gaultier was a fixture at the start of many fashion stars’ careers, as evident by the stories they told Wednesday night.

On his way out of the show, Nicolas Ghesquière, the Louis Vuitton creative director, called the designer a “master of everything,” who “broke boundaries we’re now all able to explore” — for example, he said, by mixing genders on the runway.

“We’re all little children of Jean Paul Gaultier,” said Mr. Ghesquière, adding he was 18 when he became an intern for Mr. Gaultier.

“He’s the one who gave me my first chance,” Mr. Ghesquière said. “He gave me my first paycheck — well, not him directly.”

Ellen von Unwerth, the fashion photographer, reminisced about modeling at one of Mr. Gaultier’s early shows, wearing a dress made from a garbage bag and jewelry made from metal pot scrubbers. Another former Gaultier model in the audience, Eva Herzigová, was less nostalgic.

“People keep saying: Isn’t it so sad that it’s the last show?” she said. “No, I really don’t think that. He’s so creative. He’s just moving on to a different form and shape of his creativity.”

Mr. Gaultier has not yet announced his next plans, though in the five years since he staged his final ready-to-wear show, he has collaborated with performers and directed his own cabaret revue.

The consensus among peers and friends, as articulated on Wednesday by the designer Isabel Marant — who said she used to sneak into Gaultier shows as a teenager — was that while his retirement is “super sad and emotional,” he’s fortunate to be able to step back from the industry grind with his legacy intact.

“We’re so happy for Jean Paul,” she said.

Asked if she wanted to be in fashion for 50 years, like Mr. Gaultier, Ms. Marant said with a laugh: “I’m not so sure.”

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