Jean-Paul Gaultier - Hermès Creative Director
More commonly associated with Madonna’s cone bra and torso-shaped perfume bottles, Jean-Paul Gaultier holds a special position in Hermès collectors’ hearts. The revolutionary French designer sold 35% of his namesake brand to Hermès in 1999 and four years later was appointed the House’s Creative Director. His first runway show in fall 2004 was a radical departure from Martin Margiela’s staid, sophisticated Hermès. Gaultier shifted the focus from materials and craftsmanship to design. Confident in the unwavering quality of Hermès’ materials and construction, Gaultier unleashed the brand’s motifs on his models. The Kelly closure was attached to trench coats and the Bolduc ribbon strewn over dresses. Leather whips accompanied handbags on the models’ arms for an edgy equestrian vibe.
Hermès Runway Bag Era
Unlike Margiela, Gaultier was not afraid to send bags down the runway. His first show contained not only his eponymous JPG Shoulder Birkin but also the now-famous Kelly Pochette, which has since become a staple in every Hermès collection. That year also heralded the arrival of the 25cm Birkin, which has since supplanted the then-standard 35cm Birkin as the most popular size. In later seasons audiences were treated to the debuts of other now-standard styles like the Medor clutch and the Lindy, and over the course of JPG’s tenure, the Kelly Longue faded out in favor of the Kelly Cut. The Jypsiere bag is one of Gaultier’s most enduring designs. Conceived as a crossbody Birkin, this popular style first appeared in special materials like suede and nubuck crocodile before leather versions started arriving in Hermès boutiques around the world. The Kelly Danse was another JPG creation that was discontinued for a few years before recently being brought back. The Kelly Flat on the other hand has yet to be brought back into production.
One aspect of Gaultier’s influence on Hermès that sticks with collectors to this day are his unique runway bags. Alongside regular leather examples would also walk spectacular one-offs created from silk, fur or suede, sometimes with special embellishments. Hermes scarves were employed in the creation of a number of these bags, as were knits, Shagreen, Python and metal studs. Some of these exceptional ideas made it into limited production. The Mouton Shearling Teddy Kelly first debuted on the runway before finding its way into private collections, as did the 35cm Picnic Kelly and the Shadow Birkin. Though examples can be found dating as early as 2008, a 30cm Himalayan Birkin walked down Gaultier’s Spring 2010 runway igniting collectors’ desires. A 25cm example and a Gris Cendre 30 Birkin walked in the following season further driving up desire.
Gaultier's Final Runway Shows
Never known to fade, Gaultier’s final shows for Hermès gave us some of his most famous bags. The Fall 2010 show presented not only the 40cm Teddy Kelly but also the uber-chic So Black collection which features black PVD hardware and all-black packaging. His final show in Spring 2011 gave us the 15cm Micro Birkin, which would go on to play an important role in Christophe Lemaire’s Candy Collection, as well as the 35cm Picnic Kelly and the highly sought-after Kelly Bandeau, which some models wore as a tube top. Today, rare runway bags from Gaultier’s time at Hermès are among the highest-valued bags in the world, and while certain designs of his have faded into obscurity, others have cemented themselves in the Handbag Pantheon.