Not What Meets The Eye - Jean Paul Gaultier & Trompe-L'œil

Jean Paul Gaultier SS96

Jean Paul Gaultier’s championing of unconventional artistic styles and techniques has often been the foundation for which he has addressed taboo themes.⁣⁣


One such technique that permeated throughout much of his career was trompe-l'œil, French for “deceive the eye”. The method uses realistic imagery to create the illusion that an object exists in three dimensions. By the late 1980’s, Gaultier had already referenced artistic movements such as Russian Constructivism and Abstraction, but it wasn’t until the mid 90’s that trompe-l'œil became a recurring area of fascination.⁣⁣

Robin Williams in Jean Paul Gaultier SS96 Trompe-L'œil

For his Mad Max inspired tech-meets-punk collection in 1995, the French designer experimented with the technique using cyber mesh bodysuits printed with polka dot bikinis that clung to the wearer like a second skin. The following season Gaultier’s ‘Pin Up Boys’ collection used the trompe-l'œil effect to superimpose bare torsos onto outerwear and shirts. Its use in both cases was equal parts playful and sexually charged - two defining characteristics of Gaultier’s design idiom. Robin Williams was famously pictured sporting one of the shirts that year. ⁣

In 1999 Gaultier revisited trompe-l'œil in a more technical manner, scanning and printing garments onto various classic silhouettes such as denim jackets and leather pants, rendering a new 3D look. Martin Margiela (who was once Gaultier’s protege), Comme des Garçons and Balenciaga, are just a few brands that have attempted to emulate the unique style. Jean Paul Gaultier’s continuous innovation of trompe-l'œil however, will stand out as a hallmark of his eponymous label.

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Jean Paul Gaultier AW97 Trompe-L'œil Denim Ensemble