A star-studded cast has been streaming into the sprawling Jean Paul Gaultier headquarters in Paris in recent days to film a series of vignettes for this year’s Sidaction event. With the coronavirus pandemic scuppering the AIDS-fighting association’s annual January gala, its ambassador, Gaultier, has helped to draw up a new format — harnessing the star power of France’s glamorous charity dinner to serve up on a screen.
To introduce a fundraising auction on Jan. 28, the association has set up an Instagram site, @fashionforsidaction, that will feature short clips of fashion industry figures including Jacquemus, Michèle Lamy and Alexandre Mattiussi, as well as Christine and the Queens and Sidaction vice president Line Renaud, not to mention the project’s artistic director himself, Gaultier.
The clips emulate television shopping networks popular in the 1980s, with Loïc Prigent behind the camera.
Set up by Sidaction president Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Renaud, the charity sale is supported by auction house Drouot Estimations with the partnership of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, which has been involved in Sidaction since 2003, and auction house Christie’s. It will be held on the Drouot web site and run from Jan. 28 to 31.
The auction will include items and experiences with links to the world of haute couture fashion and luxury, from houses including Balenciaga, Cartier, Celine, Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Dior, Dries Van Noten, Hermès, Loewe, Louis Vuitton, Rick Owens, Sacai and Saint Laurent.
Benefits will be donated to fight HIV and AIDS. The association funds research on HIV as well as prevention and assistance programs for people living with HIV, spanning about 100 associations in France and abroad.
The traditional January fashion dinner, which closes Paris Couture Week, meanwhile, has been postponed to July.
“In the beginning, when I was asked to be ambassador, I was thinking we could do the dinner in a certain format, with a specific table set-up, livening it up with a runway show, with each designer pitching in with a look — I had this idea of a mélange,” said Gaultier, who took on the official role in June after years of involvement with the association.
The designer spoke to WWD in a room tucked behind the entrance to the headquarters of his namesake label, surrounded by racks of flamboyant garments of all shapes and sizes, prominent rhinestone chokers and rows of glittering heels.
“Fairly quickly we realized that no, even the show I had in mind with a dinner — that wasn’t possible, it was still too risky. We needed a lot more protection than that,” he said, tracing the project’s evolution.
“So this is where we were coming from, and we decided to do perhaps the most banal-sounding concept — television shopping,” he laughed.
“But a couture version,” he added, with his trademark flair. “There are a lot of guests who are coming, each one presenting a lot.”
Around 40 lots will go under the hammer virtually; Sidaction will reveal the contents at a later date.
“I initially thought we could have each couture house donate a garment, but we needed time for that — to nail down what kind of clothing, or whether it should be archive pieces.”
Plans firmed up just before the end-of-year holidays, so timing was tight.
“We chose to focus on exceptional things, that people don’t normally have access to,” he said, hinting at the content of the lots.
Gaultier’s role as ambassador — the association’s first — follows his deep involvement over the years, which includes serving as honorary president of the 2019 gala dinner.
“This is a period with an enormous amount of change,” he mused. “Before, I took part in television shows to speak about it, but here, what’s more — and what I prefer — is being able to produce something, plan this evening, define how it should be, make it into more of a show,” said the seasoned showman.
The clips will be shown over several platforms, offering reach to countries around the world — timing was set to include audiences in Asia and the U.S.
Asked about the challenge of drawing up a new format in a period complicated by the pandemic, Gaultier pointed out that disruption often serves to generate new ideas.
“Such an environment helps us find new ideas — there are artists who say that the worst things is be settled into our habits,” he said.
“Everyone is more or less a chameleon — you have to adapt to situations, and this gives us ideas of how to find the way, how to do things,” he continued.
“In my humble opinion, when you draw up a collection with a great deal of resources — which is not necessarily unpleasant — in the end, you grow accustomed to luxury habits, which means you don’t have to reach so far,” explained Gaultier.
“When you have less, in the end, well, you’re pushed to think, to find solutions — something different,” he said.
“It’s not just that it’s stimulating, and good for creation — it’s also about doing things differently — adapting. Wanting to stick with how things were is not wanting to live, in a sense, of no longer moving forward — because living is moving forward,” added the designer.
Tracing the origins of the Sidaction, which was founded in 1994, Gaultier recalled its sobering beginnings.
“It was both serious and quite moving at the start. All of a sudden, the mentality about AIDS had begun to change,” he said, noting how it was first associated with homosexuals and drug users — as well as a scandal in France involving infected blood.
“People didn’t use the word ‘AIDS’ — this is how it was in France. Instead they referred to it as ‘la maladie’ — it was taboo,” he said.
He remembered one of the first dinners held by the association in the French capital.
“It was rather surreal. There we were, at the top of a building, it was January and suddenly we were surrounded by fog. It was striking, and quite symbolic — both beautiful and moving,” he said.
Over the years, the dinner grew and changed venue, and eventually even involved dancing — becoming a party.
“During the first stage, it was a bit — not a bit — it was traumatizing, and when that passed, it became more and more of a celebration, as there was hope and with the funds generated, and as things evolved, everyone came and it got better and better. Those are the memories I have, a sort of evolution,” he said.
Drawing parallels with the current environment, he said certain generations have learned to protect themselves and be careful.
“This helps us understand what is happening with COVID-19. A lot of young people couldn’t imagine — I know that when I was young and started hearing about cancer, it was for old people, we never thought we could be affected by it,” he recalled.
Gaultier and his teams were out to produce something uplifting and entertaining — especially important, he thought, given the troubled pandemic environment. He has been active in recent months, since his final fashion show was a year ago, designing and producing a face mask, for example, featuring his signature sailor stripes and a pair of red lips.
“I am a bit retired, even if I’m involved in a lot of projects like this,” he said, breaking out into a hearty laugh.