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Jean-Paul Gaultier to retire as fashion designer

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Paris (AFP)

French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier said Friday that his next Paris haute couture fashion show will be his last.

The flamboyant creator said he would be bowing out Wednesday with a big party to mark his 50 years in the business after his latest collection hits the catwalk.

His brand told AFP that his high-end fashion and perfume business would live on, but that Gaultier was stepping back from designing clothes himself.

"Rest assured haute couture will continue with a new concept," said the designer, who famously invented the "man skirt" and put Madonna in a conical bra.

The eternal enfant terrible dropped the bombshell in a typically jokey video message, shot as if he was giving an exclusive interview to a reporter over the phone.

Reclining on a chaise longue, he whispered, "Now I am going to give you a scoop. It will be my last couture show. You have to come, you can't miss that... but, but, but, I assure you, Gaultier Paris will go on, the haute couture will continue.

"I have a new concept. I will tell you about it later, all the little secrets. To be continued! Kisses, kisses."

- 'Fiesta of fabric and flesh' -

Gaultier, 67, 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.

But as late as last year the maverick insisted that he had no intention of hanging up his scissors -- although he despaired of animal rights activists pressuring him to stop using furs.

"I really like the feel of fur," he told AFP, as he confessed that he was wavering about dropping furs from his shows.

"We are in an age when there is too much of everything, so we shouldn't be killing animals. I have a charming little pussy, and I love animals, though I draw the line at crocodiles," he said.

While his couture business owned by the Catalan luxury conglomerate Puig was never a huge money maker, his perfumes -- often featuring his impossibly handsome sailors -- continue to be bestsellers.

A child fashion prodigy, Gaultier said he starting by making showgirl outfits for his teddy bear.

- Corsets and leather tutus -

He was personal assistant to French fashion magnate Pierre Cardin at 18, and rose to fame in the 1980s alongside designers like Thierry Mugler when the Paris fashion scene was at its most decadent.

Gaultier then carved out a parallel television career as the co-presenter of a cheeky series, "Eurotrash".

He was also the industry's jester in chief. In a world riddled with snobbery and pretension, he had the common touch -- poking fun at himself and fashion's myriad follies.

In 2018, he staged his own hit cabaret show based loosely on his life story called "Fashion Freak Show", at the Folies Bergere theatre in Paris.

The Guardian hailed it as "a fabulous fiesta of fabric and flesh" when it transferred to London last year.

It included a key moment that was to change his life -- the first time he laid eyes on a corset in his grandmother's wardrobe.

He traced his fascination to corsetry and bondage to that moment -- and both would be recurring motifs in a career also replete with leather togas and tutus, feathers and all sorts of outsiders and freaks.

Hugely-loved within the fashion world, Gaultier pioneered using plus-sized models and welcomed "all shapes sizes and sexualities" on his catwalk.

A spokeswoman for his brand told AFP the designer would be back, but like the veteran Japanese creator Kenzo -- who has moved into interior design -- it would be in other areas.

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