Jean-Paul Goude's Definition of Passion

Jean-Paul Goude’s imagination and complete mastery of images seem to know no bounds. Combining the roles of illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, director and choreographer, the talented artist makes use of all his diverse skills to showcase beauty in all its various forms. He has created some of the most iconic images from the last decades. Today more than ever, the creator’s name is all the buzz in the fashion industry. We met at his office in the cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Belleville, Paris and chatted for over two hours;  he opened up, sharing his story with me as if it were our very first meeting.

by Stéphane Leduc

Everything that Jean-Paul Goude touches turns to gold: There was Grace Jones, for whom he acted as a real-life Pygmalion; there was Vanessa Paradis, who he transformed into a beautiful caged bird for Coco Chanel; there was Farida holding Azzedine Alaïa in her arms; and even Naomi Campbell racing with a leopard in the African savannah.


Even at a young age, the artist took the time to reflect on his life, a fact which is made abundantly clear in his first book, “Jungle Fever,” published in 1983:


“My mother was an American dancer who exiled herself to Paris out of love for my French father, and I grew up in a cosmopolitan and creative household.


I was only ever good at two things: dancing and drawing. But, as you can imagine, you cannot always make a living with those skills, even if you are talented. My father kept telling me that he, too, had tried to live [off] his art in New York in the thirties. My career as a fashion illustrator was, therefore, no accident: I wanted to earn a living, but more than anything, I wanted to stay connected with what inspires me, namely the moving body and style.



As for my interest in fashion, it probably stems from my grandparents. My father’s parents owned and operated a trimming store located across the street from the Galeries Lafayette. I believe that both fashion and dance are an integral part of my DNA.”


In his youth Goude relished comics and Hollywood movies, both sources of his quirky worldview. He tries to infuse humour,  whether  in an advertising campaign with Laetitia Casta or in a Marc Jacobs’ editorial for Harper’s Bazaar.


“Humour is vital. I use it as a crutch in case one of my images does not connect with its intended audience. If, at least, the idea or message behind the visual is funny, the audience will be much more lenient. And, you know, that’s how I stand out from my competitors. That’s my added value: I know what makes me different, especially for commercial work, and I play my cards accordingly… For better or worse!”


Based on the artist’s exceptional career spanning more than four decades, the formula is a winning one.


In the ’80s,  Goude’s meeting with singer Grace Jones was a turning point in his career. He blurred the lines between masculinity and feminity, highlighting the wild side and spectacular features of the woman who became his muse – and the mother of his first-born son. Their collaboration spawned a universe that is as fascinating as it is provocative, and which solidified his reputation.


“I’m not surprised that she gets annoyed when people credit me for creating her persona, but it is the truth: She owes me a great deal, even though the fictional persona I built for her—and that she embodied to perfection—is far removed from the real Grace Jones.


I find solace in the knowledge that other couples—like Marlene Dietrich and Joseph Von Sternberg, for example —have fought the same fight. It’s always the same story: first the career, then the clash of egos and finally, the breakup.”


Another memorable collaboration in the life of this creative mind is his ongoing relationship with Chanel, which started twenty years ago with an ad for the Égoïse fragrance and continued more recently with a film for the Chance fragrance.


“I accompanied Jacques Helleu—Chanel’s Diaghilev—to New York. He wanted me to meet the brand’s owner Alain Wertheimer and help sell him on the idea of an advertising film that I would produce: music to my ears!  I find selfishness to be a horrible flaw, even today. It was, however, the perfect opportunity for me to film the core scene of a theatre project that I had created for Farida—my lover at the time—and which had not yet the seen the light of day. We would be replacing a group of North African women slamming the shutters of their affordable housing units with an army of top models loudly proclaiming their revulsion for male selfishness from the balconies of their luxurious hotel in the French Riviera. As a professional advertiser, I do not have many ideas. I only try to tell my stories in a format that suits advertising. It might be an odd way to go about it, but it’s my way, and I’m sticking with it.”


Jean-Paul Goude is a born storyteller who can capture the essence of an artist’s spirit in a single image, like he did with his series of portraits of fashion designers for Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue France.”


“I’ve said it before: I operate like an illustrator. First of all, I suggest an idea, usually a small scribbled drawing that explains the direction I want to take. I once convinced Galliano—who was reluctant to my idea of dancing the ‘Spectre de la Rose’—by complimenting him on his beautiful legs. As for Karl Lagerfeld, we showed him in his private ballroom dancing the tango—very well, I might add!—with the gorgeous Linda Evangelista.”


Goude’s creative spirit shows no signs of slowing down. He recently produced a campaign and fashion show with Kenzo x H&M and a capsule collection with Lacoste, redesigning the brand’s famous crocodile logo and infusing it with humour:


“Last year, Felipe Oliveira Baptista asked me to put my spin on the brand’s logo for a limited collection and to create an event to celebrate our collaboration. So I started thinking about all sorts of outlandish and costly possibilities before finally deciding to disguise myself as the crocodile. Which, to a certain extent, I did by proxy by creating four animated automatons who danced the night away in the Musée des Colonies’ ballroom, a space that has been close to my heart since childhood.”


One would think that, after successfully creating for several decades, Jean-Paul Goude would now slow down and look at his body of work with pride, but nothing could be further from the truth: “Four years ago, I became very sick. The passage of time makes me nervous,” Goude reflects. “Coming so close to the edge of my life has given me food for thought…I’m almost the same age as Mick Jagger, and if the Rolling Stones are still working, why shouldn’t I? I am happy to keep working while I still can. I might just live to be a hundred if I stay in shape. Who knows!


I am not obsessed with money, but I’m hoping that my time on earth leaves as positive a mark as possible.”


Rest assured, Mr. Goude; your mark is already indelible.