jeudi 12 juillet 2012

On corsets, sailor stripes and Jean-Paul Gaultier's "fetichic": Classique and Le Mâle

Much has been made of the fact that the bottle of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s first feminine fragrance was modeled after Shocking’s dressmaker-dummy bottle, designed by Leonor Fini for Elsa Schiaparelli. But by the time the fragrance was launched in 1993, the peach corset had long become a motif in Jean-Paul Gaultier’s collections, where it first appeared in 1984, and a part of international pop culture as Madonna’s costume in her 1990 “Blonde Ambition World Tour”. More than a motif, it was JPG’s founding gesture as a fashion designer, since he famously made his very first garment as a child, a bra for his teddy bear, after studying his grandmother’s undergarment.

A pure product of the mid-70s sea-change that saw fashion become quotational, Gaultier, along with Vivienne Westwood, pioneered what I’ve dubbed “fetichic”: a hijacking of the sexy lingerie rejected by women in the 60s, ironically re-appropriated by the punk-era enfants terribles of fashion. The corset quickly became a self-referential element of Gaultier’s arsenal, just like the blue-and-white striped sailor jersey which would inspire the bottle of Le Mâle – the latter is literally the emblem of the couturier who is seldom seen without it. Before the post-diet Karl Lagerfeld even donned his first Hedi Slimane slim suit, Gaultier had invented the “couturier as logo” look.

The appropriation of the peach corset and marinière as emblems is also a typically postmodern gesture in that they were already sartorial emblems. The corset stood for hyperbolic femininity with overtly erotic connotations: by the time JPG started using the motif, old-style lingerie, no longer a part of a woman’s daily wardrobe as it was at the time of his grandmother, was used solely in sexual contexts. The marinière, as part of the French sailors’ uniform, stood for virility – what’s manlier than a sailor? – with homoerotic connotations. Together, they symbolized the mythical whore-and-sailor couple the ads have frequently played on.

Thus, when Beauté Prestige International, Shiseido’s arm for fragrance licenses, created the Jean-Paul Gaultier brand, there was no need to look back to Schiaparelli to think up the corset-shaped bottle. Unlike some of its competitors, BPI, who owns the Issey Miyaké, JPG, Narciso Rodriguez and Elie Saab perfume licenses, has consistently built up brands that translate the designers’ aesthetics.  Of course, from its inception in 1990 up to 2000, it was helmed by the formidable Chantal Roos who was part of the team that launched Opium, the first truly global perfume blockbuster, a textbook example of consistency between brand identity, story, visuals and juice. Roos achieved a similar success with BPI’s first launch in 1992, Issey Miyaké’s L’Eau d’Issey. Though not all of BPI’s launches have been successful (Le Feu d’Issey was a notorious flop; A Scent by Issey Miyaké and Narciso Rodriguez Essence, despite two of the best bottle designs of the decade, weren’t blockbusters), still, they managed to walk off with six French Fifi Awards over the past 20 years. In 2012, BPI swept the top six prizes for JPG Kokorico and Elie Saab Le Parfum, but also the award for the best feminine fragrance in 20 years for Christine Nagel and Francis Kurkdjian’s Narciso Rodriguez for Her.

JPG Classique and Le Mâle both won Best Fragrance when they were launched (the public also voted with their skins and wallets, consistently placing them in the top ten bestsellers in France). But more than that, both fragrances can be considered contemporary classics in that they have stamped our olfactory culture and memory, not only by creating clones in fine fragrance, but by seeping into functional products.
What’s particularly interesting is that both Classique and Le Mâle started out with deliberate references, not only to functional products, but to the very archetypes of gendered functional products. Le Mâle, a fougère, is Francis Kurkdjian’s interpretation of the barbershop, every bit as much of an ironic/nostalgic quote as the marinière that inspired the bottle. As for Classique, just like the corset, it is a reminiscence of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s grand-maman, and possibly the first fragrance to deliberately reference cosmetics, namely rice powder and nail polish remover (Sophia Grojsman’s Trésor for Lancôme had pioneered the “cosmetic” note but had not set out to do so intentionally).

Just like its cosmetic-table referents – and, for that matter, the corset itself – Jacques Cavallier’s Classique smells unapologetically of artifice and boosts femininity to drag-queen levels. The orange blossom note carries a whiff of baby aspirin; the face powder accord, backed by a powerful vanilla fond, gives off the brittle, almost gustatory effect of a meringue; the powdery texture is reprised in the slightly dusty smell of woody accord. The “corset-peach” tone is achieved through the peachy lactonic notes of the white floral accord.

Like Gaultier’s corset, which he submits to variations in each collection, Classique has given birth to a whole family of flankers. This year’s “Urban Jungle” edition is dressed up in the jungle motif of the spring/summer 2011 women’s RTW collection starring Beth Ditto and a posse of Ziggy Stardust-Siouxsie Sioux punkettes, but also inspired by the quirky “jungle in the house” suite Gaultier designed for Elle Déco. 

The juice is the same as last year’s Classique d’Été, with a boosted rose and an old-school hairspray effect I’m not sure is an improvement on the nail polish remover note. It feels just about as natural as the magenta palm fronds on the bottle, which isn’t necessarily an issue with Classique – with its distinctive tin-can box, it has never pretended for a minute to be anything but a tongue-in-cheek, postmodern reading of the floriental genre.

As you can see from the bottles below, the bottles have shed their trademark stripes and corset to don camouflage fit for a psychedelic jungle: the sailor and the tart have turned into Adam and Eve.

8 commentaires:

  1. Fascinating history (especially Bras for Teddies)! How do you see Fleur du Male fitting into the line, or not? It's the only orange blossom I can wear (haven't had a chance to try Seville yet!); FdM doesn't veer into super-sweet territory on my skin, and I love the bottle. Is it true that it's discontinued?

  2. Marla, Fleur du Mâle is pretty much the equivalent of the man-skirt, isn't it? Cross-gendering is also part of the JPG DNA. I'm still seeing it up on the brand's website and it's being sold online here in France by big chains. It's true it wasn't quite the success they hoped for: cross-gendering in the mainstream is hard to pull off (as the reformulation of Dior Homme demonstrated). I haven't seen the JPG male makeup line around much either. Or man-skirts for that matter.

  3. I was amazed to see the Shocking bottles on ebay for the first time and realize where the JPG bottles came from. I hadn't really thought about it before, but you're right about how cleverly they've used the design and how much they've developed it.

    Another unusual perfume bottle that I later realized to be a copy of a deco bottle (I forget which one, but it's in all the books) is Cacharel Lou Lou. The only real updating was the unusual color.

    This makes me wonder if there are designers who specialize in perfume bottles or if less specialized designers do research on antique bottles. ~~nozknoz

  4. Nozknoz, for designers, there's a bit of everything, with people like Pierre Dinand, Serge Manseau, Thierry de Bashmakoff, etc. who are star perfume-bottle designers, stars like Ross Lovegrove (NR Essence) who'll take on the odd project, and everything in between.
    Of course I should imagine that antique bottles are researched. Octavian pointed out that the Karl Kapsule trio bottles made by Coty were the same shape as Ybry bottles from the 20s.

    In the case of Shocking, there were actually re-editions in the 70s and 80s (I owned one and they were featured in magazines) which meant that people in the industry knew perfectly well about the shape without doing research.
    My point in this piece is that the iconic corset motif is very much Gualtier's, and could have come about without the project manager waking up and saying: what if we rip off Schiap?

  5. You're right, it's a perfect evocation of the JPG brand, and, of course, one still sees real dress forms and lingerie dummies - it could well have been reinvented rather than copied. ~~nozknoz

  6. Nozknoz, I don't have the hard facts on the conception of the flacon, so for all I know they were indeed inspired by the Schiap (the house is being revived, BTW). Maybe I'll find out some day!

  7. leMale and Fleur de Male were the reasons I have been avoiding sampling F.Kurkdjiian house's fragrances. I took that step only recently and I am glad about it. The frags he published under his name show much more persistence in perfecting the texture. LeMale never had much of a chance with me to be honest as I can't relate to this type of chemical sweetness. It simply feels plastic to me and I do like my scents to convey some sense of luxury that I don't get from leMale. From the JPG line, I had many hopes for Fleur de Male, hopes that were never met I'm afraid. This white floral is cloying to the point that it interferes with breathing. I do like the white floral note which is so rich and creamy that smells more like gardenia to me, mixed perhaps with a green and acidic petit-grain that cuts the extreme milkiness. My problem is that this hybrid of a tree seems to have been growing next o a highway and its greens and petals have been covered by smog and dust. Some church incense wafts by and makes the experience awkward.

  8. Kostas, a common feeling here in the industry is that FK reprised some ideas he'd had for other houses and expressed them more fully in his own line -- he's certainly got heftier budgets for his oils and can use more naturals or better quality synthetics. I've never worn his masculines for JPG, but I've sure smelled Le Mâle, which for a while seemed like the default masculine fragrance here in Paris and is still a best-seller. La Fleur du Mâle didn't fare as well, but it's got its fans (see Marla's comment above).