John Paul Gaultier's (b. 1952) backwards jacket is a witty take on the straight-laced business suit jacket. Though the wool and rayon jacket appears surprisingly mild for a Gaultier design, closer inspection reveals the designer's usual playful iconoclasm. Seen from the front, the jacket, with its rounded patch pockets and high collar, resembles a utilitarian smock or uniform. Unlike most smocks, this jacket has shapely princess seams which fit and flatter the body. This construction detail is emphasized by functional casings, which suggest the channeled construction of a corset. Instead of boning, Gaultier inserted a branded silver chain into two of these channels. A bold red and gold textile with a brocaded pattern of floating bull heads lines the jacket body and collar; black and white striped fabric lines the sleeves.
With its back zipper closure, the front of the jacket looks like the back and vice versa. This play on the usual way a jacket is worn points to Gaultier's interest in teasing and upending sartorial norms. As he stated in a 1986 interview, "Always I wanted difference and opposition...My eccentricity became direction."1 His most notable challenges to fashion include skirts for men and his use of the corset as outerwear. With this jacket, Gaultier offers a gentle, almost surrealistic, challenge to notions of how clothing should, or shouldn't, be worn.
Despite an established reputation for subversion, Gaultier's work is based on a deep understanding of construction and design. As noted by an observer of Gaultier's New York debut fashion show in 1984, "scene-stealing garments" hid "a surprising classicism" that allowed his designs to be worn both uptown and downtown, depending on styling and accessories.2 This aspect of Gaultier's aesthetic is highlighted here by his zipper closure. With the zipper fully closed, the jacket reads as slightly quirky, but not exactly boundary-pushing. But if you unzip the zipper to the barest minimum, revealing a stretch of spine and the collar lining, Gaultier's backwards jacket becomes a different garment, suitable for unconventional situations.
1 Gross, Michael. "Gaultier: Fashion Designed to Provoke: Eccentricity, for him, 'became direction.' New York Times (Oct. 31, 1986) A32.
2 Duka, John. "Gaultier's U.S. Debut: A Three-Ring Affair." New York Times (Sep. 18, 1984) B9.