Haute Historian: John Paul Gaultier. Sailors’ Duds

May 16, 2011 • Haute Historian, Magazine

Ships Ahoy! The nautical trend has officially set sail. Although the wide-leg white pant, the horizontal navy and white striped top (also known as the Breton stripe) and a pair of boat shoes are more-or-less summer staples by now (even in landlocked areas) this season the trend is really making a splash. And while the look and its inspiration have militaristic origins, the trend is no longer just for those who serve in the navy and it hasn’t almost since its inception. Instead, fashion designers have been adopting the look for years and making it their own. Ralph Lauren, a classic American designer, is known for incorporating military themes and red, white and blue color palettes in his collections, but it’s actually French designer Jean Paul Gaultier who has capitalized on the Breton stripe in the modern sense.

The Breton stripe’s inspiration originally comes from the French sailors of Brittany, France, who wore a similarly striped, boat-neck collar knit shirt. It was designed in the 1850s as part of the French sailor’s uniform. The seafaring look has had its moments of trendsetting popularity long before Gaultier’s version came to shore (last pun, I promise!) and it seems as if the French have had a handle on this garment for quite sometime. In the early 1900s many bathing suits had nautical inspired attributes and children were often dressed as miniature sailors, as many moms are still wont to do. Coco Chanel, of course had a version that became popular for women and then later in the 1950s the shirt was once again a common style worn by many a young French man or woman.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Gaultier introduced the Breton stripe and his nautical inspired designs to the fashion industry. It came with the launch of his Junior Gaultier label which was geared toward a younger market. The line was very much nautical themed, a theme that would eventually carry over into his couture and ready-to-wear lines as well. The advertisements for his colognes would often feature a tattooed sailor wearing the Breton shirt or no shirt at all. While Gaultier has gone on and expanded his collections and is far from only being known as a nautical themed designer, the Briton stripes still show up intermittently in his collections. He even designed the interiors of a Paris apartment decked out in floor to ceiling marine style. And even though the basic top with navy and white stripes is an instant classic and go to for men and women alike, no longer are we restricted to just that. Today, the Breton stripe has been glamorized and can be found on anything from couture gowns to handkerchiefs.

1. Jean Paul Gaultier, Spring 2011 Couture
2. Jean Paul Gaultier, Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear
3. Print Cologne Ad For Men
4. Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2006 Ready-to-Wear
5. Coco Chanel Breton Top
6. Paris Apartment Designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, 2010
7. Gaultier in a Paris Apartment Designed by Himself, 2010

—Bonnie J Brown

Image Layout: Molly Murphy

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