The Originals: Jean-Paul Goude

Jean-Paul Goude wears his own clothing.

Collage by Jean-Paul Goude.

In an era where seemingly everything is mined for inspiration—or, let’s be frank, appropriation—what does it take to be truly one of a kind? A willingness to break the rules is essential; a strong sense of personal style certainly doesn't hurt; but most of all, you need to have a truly meaningful point of view. At W we are all about celebrating originality, which is why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite people who are constantly pushing boundaries, and asked them to share valuable insights. They may be just starting out or in the prime of their careers, but they are all leading the conversation in their chosen fields—whether it’s fashion, art, film, music, photography, or even skateboarding. The bottom line is that, regardless of their differences, they all share one very important trait: for them, standing out, rather than blending in, is not an option but a necessity.

Jean-Paul Goude is a graphic designer, photographer, illustrator, and director.

You have a long working relationship with Grace Jones. How did you begin to help craft her persona?
It all started with a portrait I did of her for New York magazine in the 1970s when she was my girlfriend. When she eventually asked me—as a favor—to help her with her show, I simply did what I thought Hollywood writers do when they write a script: I conceived a fictional character, and it would become her trademark for years. The character was in complete contradiction with the glitzy style of the entertainers of the period. Wearing bluish makeup to emphasize her African roots, a flattop hair style, and a tight tailored men’s suit to dramatize her androgyny, Grace looked more like a menacing alien than a disco diva; instead of belting songs like all the other stars of the day, she recited her lyrics as slowly and precisely as an English schoolteacher. My direct involvement with her, which started in 1978, lasted roughly five years during which we both learned our trade—she as a singer and entertainer, and I as a scenographer and commercial film director. All I can say is that Grace Jones, in 1978, looked and sounded like nobody else in the music business.

You’ve worked in so many different mediums over the course of your career, from fashion photography to advertising to directing. Is there a common thread among all your work?
Since I realized very early in life that, whether I liked it or not, I could only dance and draw, I decided to incorporate those two skills in all my projects, whether they are advertising, fashion photography, theatrical events, even museum exhibitions. To me, they’re all the same.

When you look back at your career, do you have any regrets?
Sort of…it was the ’70s, and it was Halloween night in a gay disco during a show that I not only conceived and directed but also photographed for the invitation. Disguised as a tiger, Grace came onstage crawling on all fours while a live tiger in a cage was rolled onstage by two chorus boys. As Grace approached the cage, taunting the beast, all the lights went out, and when they came back on a few seconds later, the tiger had disappeared: Alone in the cage, Grace was munching on a big piece of fake meat as she glared furiously at the audience. We all knew that this was no Shakespeare in the Park, and that the show was meant to be pure burlesque and lots of fun; but stage shows die and pictures stay. Looking back, the whole performance was indeed in the worst taste possible, even if it perfectly suited the spirit of the time.

Who was the first person who taught you that you could break the rules?
I guess it was Harold Hayes, the legendary editor and my boss at Esquire magazine some 50 years ago. Harold was the first person to take me seriously enough to run a story in his magazine that was an unabashed reflection on my own neuroses. We called it “The French Correction,” or how to improve one’s morphologic imperfections by using various prostheses.

You pioneered the art of image manipulation. What do you think of the now widespread use of Photoshop?
Photoshop is a great invention. In my case, it has enabled me to keep closer to graphics and drawing pictures, even though I manipulate photographs and film. Photoshop has reconciled me with the art of Illustration in general. Besides, not only do I work faster and more precisely, it enables me to push my ideas further.

Who is the artist or performer that you consider the most original?
I always had a weakness for Lina Wertmüller, the feminist author and director of Swept Away. It’s a 45-year-old movie about machismo versus man-hating from the mid-’70s. It’s a gem.

What was your first major fashion purchase?
I don’t shop at all. I know style and I’m interested in clothes, but I’ve always had my clothes made by a tailor. When I was 15, I used to borrow money from my dad to have my clothes made in secret. I’m not a tailor, but I know how my jacket should fall on me. A tailor can call it his jacket, because he cut it and sewed it, but I call it mine, because I actually designed it.

What is originality to you?
Originality is about being creatively daring. It’s about being authentic, different, and, if possible, unique.

Do you feel that political correctness has impacted the execution of your ideas?
Of course it has, and it’s been getting worse, especially in recent years, with the emergence of social media.

How much do you care about the public’s response to your work?
I care a lot. I’m a closet performer who loves applause and hates bad reviews!

Related: Grace Jones on Turning Her Experience with Abuse Into a Lifetime of Being Fierce: "I Pack a Good Wallop"