Originally printed in the January 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
Jean Paul Gaultier, dressed in a suit and tie, strolls into his Paris couture showroom. On this particular winter day, the soaring space, cloaked floor-to-ceiling in white tissue, is illuminated with natural rays that stream in from rue Saint-Martin. A colossal mirror, where couture and bridal clients marvel at their reflections, leans against a wall. Two velvet ebony divans face each other, beckoning leisurely conversation over chocolate truffles. Walls are lined with couture creations displayed on mannequins, and behind a white curtain, rack upon rack bursts with dresses, perhaps to be sent to a retrospective exhibition – or a client. Anything seems possible under the haunting, half-concealed chandelier chez Gaultier. The space is what I would imagine a princess’s anteroom would look like, had France not ended its monarchy at the guillotine. Today, we are guests in the house of one of the country’s most iconic designers, but not to speak with him of clothes; nor his career that started with Pierre Cardin and that ascended when he took the street to the runway. We’re also not discussing how he marked Madonna’s tours with provocative costumes, as he did in cinema – The Fifth Element by Luc Besson comes to mind. Nor his numerous perfumes for men and women. Rather, we are here to talk about the dellah – a traditional Middle Eastern coffee pot and set that he designed for the region.
“I said yes right away,” says Gaultier, settling into the plush couch. “And I did what I could with the means that I have.” He nods to the vibrant-looking dellah sitting on the low table before us. Approached by Aura, a Saudi Arabian contemporary home decor brand, Gaultier was asked to collaborate on the design of the dellah, coffee and tea cups, and saucers. Set to retail exclusively in the GCC, all profits will go to Ensan, the Saudi Arabian charitable society for the care of orphans, chaired by Prince Faisal bin Salman. It takes care of more than 40 000 orphans in the Riyadh region alone, and also provides assistance to adult orphans, be it through job placements and even marriage.
The design is undeniably “Gaultier.” The French colors, blue marine stripes against a white porcelain backdrop, are finished with a red button atop the cap – a nod to the large poppy-colored pouf that sits high on the hat of French marines. “For luck,” adds the couturier. The story of the stripes is a personal one for Gaultier. As a child, he wore striped T-shirts purchased at flea markets. “I thought it was beautifully graphic, and the stripes bring a certain dynamic to a classic outfit. Wear a striped shirt under a suit and it ‘breaks’ the look in a fantastic way.” As for the roses, they are drawn like tattoos and recall a target when featured on a saucer, surrounded by circles. Tattoos are a signature of Gaultier. “I have them on my arms, but I don’t show them anymore. They don’t age very well,” he says. He points to the iron structure levitating from the center of the dellah. “The Eiffel Tower. Paris – it’s my home. It’s also the center of the couture world.” Behind the iconic structure, wings spread wide. They represent royalty, but also liberty. “Elevate yourself in peace, not just power,” says Gaultier, pointing up towards the sky.
The photographer signals that she is ready to begin the photo shoot. Gaultier disappears behind a white changing wall and emerges in a sequined, blue-striped sailor’s shirt. Man and myth merge. There is a sudden hush in the salon. Gaultier’s blue eyes twinkle and his sequins flash. He picks up the dellah and holds it like a showman, fingers flaring like the arabesque neck of the pot. Fashion history now with a taste of Arabia is once again unveiled in front of our eyes.
The Aura X Jean Paul Gaultier collection is available at Aura stores across the region. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to Ensan