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Fashioning fun: Jean-Charles de Castelbajac

Since his earliest collections, fashion designer Jean Charles de Castelbajac has been a master of the divertissement, conveying in his designs a fascinating mix of fun, surrealism and counter-thinking.

Marquise Jean-Charles de Castelbajac started his career in fashion designing for his mother’s brand Ko & Co., with whom Chantal Thomass and Kenzo also collaborated. He presented his first collection in 1970, while working as a freelancer for other brands, like the Italian ‘Jesus Jeans’, whose controversial advertisement shot by Oliviero Toscani and featuring slogans such as ‘Thou shalt not have any other jeans but me’ and ‘He who loves me follows me’ scandalized a nation and moved the minds and pens of many intellectuals, stimulating among others the acute wit of Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Jacket designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. Courtesy MUDE - Museu do Design e da Moda, Lisbon, all rights reserved.

Jacket designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. Courtesy MUDE - Museu do Design e da Moda, Lisbon, all rights reserved.

If his first collections were free of the bold ornaments and prints that characterized his following ones – something that still characterises his style and that has since expanded to accessories, furniture and art – they were however not free of the of his irreverent spirit. One of his first creation, and yet one of his most iconic, was a coat cut out from a blanket. The same concept he echoed later in the teddy bears coat designed for the f/w 1988-89 collection and worn by Madonna and Lauren Hutton, and also in the ‘Kermit the Frog’ coat sported by Lady Gaga in 2009.

'Arche de Noé', teddy bears coat, designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, f/w 1988-89 collection. Courtesy Les Arts Décoratifs, all rights reserved.

'Arche de Noé', teddy bears coat, designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, f/w 1988-89 collection. Courtesy Les Arts Décoratifs, all rights reserved.

In 1972, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac joined the ‘Créateurs & Industriels’ group, founded a year earlier by Didier Grumbach, which counted among its members Issey Myake, Thierry Mugler, Christiane Bailly, Michel Klein, Emmanuelle Khanh and Adeline André. The main aim of the group was to proclaim that creativity was not just a prerogative of haute couture, or at least not anymore. Its counter-fashion attitude, frequently associated with that of Italian contemporary designers Franco Moschino and Elio Fiorucci, showed both a deep understanding of the industry and positive intent to shake it up.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, f/w 1982-83 fashion show. Photo © Paul van Riel / HH.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, f/w 1982-83 fashion show. Photo © Paul van Riel / HH.

The cartoonish and Pop-Art inspired prints that have come to identify his fashion aligned, in fact, with this position. He started featuring these themes in his designs since the 1980s, and since then they have been disseminated in his collaborations – above all, with Sportmax and Iceberg – and culminated in the collaboration with different artists in the creations of the famous painted-dresses. Crossing the boundaries between art and design, he is now still a prolific designer whose sharp eyes captures the hilarities of the contemporary.

Browse the Europeana Fashion collection to discover more Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s amazing creations.

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