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Style legend Jean-Paul Gaultier takes his last bow
French designer Jean Paul Gaultier acknowledges the audience at the end of his Women's Spring-Summer 2020 Haute Couture collection fashion show in Paris, on January 22, 2020. Legendary French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier is set to retire from fashion after a typically spectacular show in Paris on January 22, 2020. The maverick creator stunned fans on January 17, by announcing that the haute couture show in a theatre in the French capital would be his last. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP.

by Olga Nedbaeva / Fiachra Gibbons

PARIS (AFP).- Legendary French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier on Wednesday plugged recycling clothes as he kicked off a spectacular show to mark his retirement from fashion.

In a touching adieu to fashion, Gaultier said the business "has changed. There are too many clothes and too many that are never worn.

"Don't throw them away, recycle them," he declared before taking a trip down memory lane.

"When I was a child my mother told me how she would turn my father's old worn trousers into skirts. That marked me. You can love a garment again by transforming it," Gaultier said.

"I have been doing that since my very first show. In my first show and this my last there are creations made with the jeans I've worn," he said.

"It's the most beautiful of materials. Like a lot of humans, it becomes even more beautiful as it gets older.

"So this is my first upcycling haute couture collection. Goodbye to the spanking new, hello to the spanking old!" he said.

The maverick creator stunned fans on Friday by announcing that the haute couture show in a theatre in the French capital would be his last.

The provocateur, who changed pop history by putting Madonna in a conical bra, said he was hanging up his scissors after 50 years in the business.

The hour-long show began with a massive musical number from Boy George before a coffin was carried on stage with two conical-shaped breasts on the lid.

Rumours are rife that the "Queen of Pop" may appear in the farewell show, a one-hour extravaganza with 200 models.

Gaultier proposed marriage to the singer three times in the past.

"Sadly she said no," the designer confessed earlier this year.

He also revealed that the iconic design came from his teddy bear, Nana, for whom he designed conical breasts when he was a child when his parents refused to give him a doll.

"Nana was the first transgender teddy," he joked.

'Laughing and crying'
Given that Gaultier is taking his final bow at the Theatre du Chatelet, many believe the 67-year-old showman may throw himself into showbiz.

His "Fashion Freak Show", a cheeky cabaret revue based on his life has been a popular and critical hit.

With its catchphrase "Tout le monde est beau!" ("Everybody looks so good!"), it was a feel-good smash when he premiered it at the Folies Bergere in Paris in 2018.

It is now touring Russia after an acclaimed London run.

"For years now Jean Paul-Gaultier has been saying, 'I am going to have to make a decision (about the future)'," fashion historian Olivier Saillard told AFP.

"I think the success of the show has shown him a way," he added.

"It has been wonderful for him to see the public laughing and crying with him," the historian said.

"It is so much more joyful than a fashion show, which lasts 11 minutes and where people are always on their phones taking photos."

'Everybody will be there'
The impish creator had previously carved out a cult following as a presenter of the late-night 1990s television show "Eurotrash".

But Gaultier cultivated an air of mystery about his future as he made his bombshell retirement announcement, teasing journalists with a typically jokey video message which he recorded while reclining on a chaise longue.

"I have a new concept. I will tell you about it later, all the little secrets. To be continued! Kisses!" said the designer who invented -- and loved sporting -- the "man skirt".

His brand told AFP that his perfume brand and high-end haute couture business, Gaultier Paris, would live on.

Gaultier stopped designing ready-to-wear clothes in 2015 to concentrate on haute couture -- extravagant handmade clothes which only the world's richest women can afford.

The designer said his farewell show will finish with a huge party -- "Everybody will be there!" -- that will "go on very, very late".

Body-positive pioneer
Never less than flamboyant, Gaultier was a fashion prodigy, becoming the personal assistant of French style legend Pierre Cardin at just 18.

From the start he challenged gender stereotypes and conventional ideas of beauty, once placing an advert for "atypical" models.

"The facially disfigured should not refrain from applying," he added.

Gaultier embraced the ideas of body positiveness and gender fluidity long before they became fashionable.

American singer Beth Ditto and the bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst were among the atypical models whom he charmed onto the catwalk.

Saillard said the couturier had mentored many top designers over the years and "he is like a spiritual father to them".

"He feels that fashion has changed terribly," Salliard said.

Nor was it a secret that Gaultier was unhappy with the Catalan luxury conglomerate Puig, who bought his brand in 2011.

"He has been designing for 50 years now, which is not nothing," said Saillard. "He will be back, but in a different way."

© Agence France-Presse

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