How does one of the most prolific subsidiary lines of the 20th century find itself without a Wikipedia page in 2021? It’s a travesty nobody seems to have the answer for, a best-kept myth of fashion folklore that one archival Instagram account is hellbent on sharing with the world.
Earning its place in pop culture as the unofficial uniform of Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour just over three years after its founding, the affordable chevron jumpsuits, oversized basketball jerseys and nip-waist leopard jackets of Jean Paul Gaultier’s (seemingly forgotten) sister label, Junior Gaultier, were a favourite of clubbers around the world. From garage girls and acid house ravers to the spasmodic voguers of the Harlem ball scene (see Willi Ninja’s iconic scissor earrings in Paris Is Burning), Gaultier Junior High founder and curator Christopher Cole believes there’s still a whole world of the label’s cultural influence left to explore, you just have to know where to look for it.
Madonna, Donna De Lory and Niki Haris wear S/S 1990 Junior Gaultier jackets on the Blond Ambition Tour.
Currently temping as a researcher-cum-archivist at the Princeton University Library in his home state of New Jersey, Cole tells us he can trace his first meeting with the label back nearly three decades ago. It was the summer of 1996, a year after Clueless had hit theatres, Cole had managed to get his hands on the tape via his local Blockbuster, recalling the moment with vivid candour. Like the rest of the world, the archivist found himself enamoured by Cher Horowitz’s garish plaid two-piece, a mustard yellow knife pleat skirt with a matching blazer, a feat now widely considered one of the most recognisable (and infinitely stylish) costumes to ever grace the silver screen.
But his interest in the brand wouldn’t pique again for another two decades, when he found himself on the other side of an internet rabbit hole as to the true origins of the costume in 2019. A common misconception is that this was a number devised by Dolce and Gabbana, Cole explains. But after digging through interviews with costume designer Mona May and casting a thorough eye over countless luxury resale sites, Cole’s search revealed a tag from a seemingly unfamiliar name – Junior Gaultier. This realisation would mark the start of an impassioned drive to uncover all there is to know about the history of the cult label.
Below Cole shares with us his favourite Junior Gaultier tidbits, from collections done right (and wrong) to his own lingering questions for the famed French designer…
Still, ‘Paris is Burning’, 1990 dir. Jennie Livingston
Bailey Slater: When did your journey as a Gaultier researcher begin?
CC: Well, I’d always known about Jean Paul Gaultier because of his work in The Fifth Element and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, but I didn’t know about his history as much. So I researched Clueless, and when I found the yellow plaid suit, the tag inside read ‘Junior Gaultier’. I then realised it was a second line. When you Google ‘Junior Gaultier’, it doesn’t come up with all that much, so as I kept digging I found all these editorials from Elle and Glamour with some big-time photographers and used the information in the photos like the stylist or the year to go even further. After I started getting into Junior Gaultier, that’s when I learned about all of Gaultier’s other history.
BS: Have you always been interested in fashion?
CC: Yes, I have. I grew up loving the reruns of The Brady Bunch performing in flowing culottes dyed in different solid shades of orange. I also loved the Spice Girls when they were all the rage, especially when they attended the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. They wore skintight minidresses, leopard print platform boots; leotards printed in the American Flag, sweats and sports bras. This was undoubtedly bold and lacking self-consciousness – at the time I didn’t analyse the meaning of their clothes (and clothes in general), but when I became an adult I would start learning about the symbolism of costume design and fashion in general.
BS: For those who aren’t familiar with Junior Gaultier, how would you describe it?
CC: Gaultier is a designer who likes to make one thing and transform it into something else, oftentimes it’s an ironic transformation, like turning basketball sneakers into high heels or taking desert boots (FW88-89) and putting a winkle-pickler pointy toe and Louis heel on it, so it has that Frenchness but also a kind of British fashion history. But even though Junior had its own distinctive codes, it was still the Gaultier look, just applied to these less expensive fabrics.
Naomi Campbell wears a S/S 1988 Junior Gaultier bra dress in the June 1988 Vogue UK. Photographer: Eamonn J. McCabe
BS: When you started this archive did you have an intended aim or was it more a passion project for yourself?
CC: Oh, yeah, it was a passion thing. I had already done the research, and then in August of 2020 I saw this Instagram account for the show Murder, She Wrote. It showed you photos of various things she wore in the show, with a funny little sentence but no information on the clothes. Then I looked at What Fran Wore, and she had all the dates and collections of Fran Drescher’s outfits in The Nanny, and I thought I could make an Instagram showing what I’ve found and give it historical context. It’s not as if there are many followers on there, but I think the difference is a lot of the people who follow it do so because they like Junior Gaultier specifically. But you know, I really do it for myself too.
BS: What are the most common misconceptions about the label?
CC: The biggest misconception is that his clothes aren’t wearable and that he’s all shock, no substance. The 1980s and into the mid-1990s were his prime, but the quality of his collections never decreased. Overall, his clothes are sexy in subtle and more overt ways; he was varied!
BS: Have many fellow JG obsessives gotten in touch with you?
CC: Yes! So many people who wore Junior in the late 1980s and into the 1990s have provided photos from their personal collections of themselves wearing Junior and scans of Junior featured in fashion magazines – many of them were fashion students or involved in the industry. Even employees at Junior Gaultier stores have got in touch and remembered specific shoe names and what sold well. There were also avid clubbers who shared stories of how Junior felt on their bodies. The gold lame jackets and jeans from SS89, for instance, were very itchy to wear but looked fabulous, and with the SS90 skintight hooded pieces, worn mostly by men, to avoid showing the outline of underwear they’d wear jockstraps.
BS: Have you found anything in your research that really blew your mind?
CC: I found these club nights called Junior Gaultier Modern Dance Parties. Yeah, they actually had these in the Netherlands and Belgium, and there were DJs and themed events where they would go wearing mainline and Junior. I saw one photo of a woman in the bathroom of the club, and I imagine it was from 1992 because it didn’t have the exact date but she was wearing a bathing suit from that collection and some of his Converse baseball boots, she had a handbag on her wall and shoulder bag right on her shoulders – that was her look.
Ibiza (1989), a man wears a crop top & leggings both from the S/S 1988 Junior Gaultier collection. Photographer: Dave Swindells
BS: Is there anything the brand got wrong?
CC: The leopard print pieces wouldn’t be something I’d wear for myself, but they are bold. I do think it’s really for anyone to wear, man or woman, and that’s the thing. He’s known for testing how far somebody can go with taste, for the most part, but he was definitely still pretty stylish even when he pushed the buttons, so I can’t say I found anything too hideous.
BS: What about what they got right?
CC: The piece I find the most groundbreaking, even though it’s just a cotton t-shirt, is from his Spring 90 collection. They call it the X-ray print shirt, and it basically looks like an actual x-ray of the neck from the torso, but also includes other parts of the neck and the hands even go all the way down the sleeves. If you look even closer they also put the name of Doctor Mabuse, the hypnotic criminal mastermind, on it. It was kind of a supernatural ‘bit’, a little wink-wink.
BS: Finally, if you could ask him anything, what would it be?
CC: In terms of Junior, I think I’d want to know what made him think of the idea to do that second line. I know he always wanted to do something that was more affordable and he was always inspired by the street. Even from the beginning of his career he’d like to see things that were ‘wrong’ and didn’t follow the normal code, like seeing someone wearing a sweater over an overcoat or, maybe even with a chain on the front. So I’d like to know exactly what point did he start to come up with that, and how did it all fall away?
Dave Gahan wears a S/S 1988 Junior Gaultier jacket at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards. Photographer: Barry King
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