Michel Gaubert: A True Fashion Player

When did things really take off?

When I moved to Paris, which happened when I entered the army. I was going to be based in the south of France, in Bordeaux, but when I was having medical tests done, I told the officer I couldn't go into the army because I'm gay. He said, "Me, too. But I can put you in Paris if you want." We fucked that night.

(Laughs.) That sounds hot.

Yeah, it was.

What year was that?

1978.

Did you get into a lot of trouble when you arrived in Paris?

Yeah, lots of sex, lots of drugs. But it was a time when doing drugs was just having fun, not like today. I had the attitude of [Yves] Saint Laurent. Or Francoise Sagan, who wrote the book Bonjour Tristesse when she was sixteen or something. She made so much money when she was young. She bought a Porsche and drove it around at 250 kilometers an hour, and took drugs all her life. One time she was on TV being accused of being drug trafficker. She said, "If you mean I took dope from my kitchen to my bedroom, then indeed I am." That's the attitude I had, but then when I realized how much it took to take drugs, like meeting someone at 2 am underneath a porch, I didn't want to be involved anymore. It had to be fun. Also, I woke up one afternoon in the middle of a public garden with a massive headache. I realized getting wasted was getting me nowhere. I had to do a Betty Ford. It's only cigarettes and Diet Coke for me now.

The Michel Gaubert diet. Speaking of diets, what's the first time you met Karl?

Funnily enough, the second fashion show I saw after the one with my grandmother was a ChloÈ show. I was in the army, in Paris, and I would go out at night and do a lot of things. One morning I woke up and the person next to me asked me if I wanted to go see a fashion show. That was the first time I was aware of Karl. Then, I began working as a buyer at a record store called Champs Disques. I would go to England, Belgium and America to buy records for the store. Karl was a regular.

What's the first thing he said to you?

I can't remember exactly, but he was asking for music. Later, in '90, he asked me if I wanted to do the music for his fashion show. That was for his own Karl Lagerfeld line, then later I did Chanel. That was stressful because the [Chanel] show was on a Monday, and I had come home that Sunday evening and went to bed. Karl called me at 2 am and asked me to do the music for the Chanel show in the morning. He said he'd just heard the music and he really hated it. I must say I'm so happy every time I work with Karl. He can do things to such an extent. If he decides he wants to have a show on an airplane, he'll make it happen. We've done quite a few incredible shows. A few years ago, we did a show where the models came out on the runway like in a normal show, but then they climbed into this big mountain made out of wood, then they all reappeared in a carousel. It was amazing. I knew Karl must be smiling. You think he's never amazed, but he is.

Do people gawk when you two hang out?

No, people leave him alone most of the time. He has bodyguards...not really bodyguards, but someone like a driver who's always watching him. People do look at him a little because he looks they was he does. You and I work in fashion so we're used to it, but last year I worked on a Helmut Newton tribute. Everyone was there, Tom Ford, Pierre Berge, Newton's widow, and Karl. There were musicians and sound technicians all around the theater, going all the way up to the ceiling. I heard one of them say, "Oh look, it's Kenzo!" I thought that was so funny. He wasn't in fashion but he knew it was a name that started with a K.

Why do designers fall over themselves to hire you?

I have a particular way of understanding music. I take music, twist it and make it different. I choose songs in a way that is my own, but it's difficult to define. I don't try to push my own personal taste. I like to get into designers' heads, understand their ideas and bring to them what I think would work.

Has a designer ever come to you with an idea you thought was ridiculous?

Yes. One American designer came back from her country home with a tape of a child singing to something like an organ, and she wanted to play it at the show. It was her daughter or granddaughter or niece or something. A bunch of us were there at the table thinking this is the worst idea ever. Fortunately, I didn't have to tell her it wasn't a good idea. Someone else did.

Have you ever turned someone down?

Yeah. Someone called me up recently at 9 at night and asked if I would do his show at 3:00 the next day. I said no. I can't be a lifesaver for everyone.

Who was it?

Roberto Menicetti.

So you do all four fashion capitals?

Yes, from the beginning of the men's shows in Milan, then Paris and couture, then I board a plane for Fashion Week in New York, then London, Milan and Paris. I'm at a high speed like that for two months twice a year. I don't take time off because I have to listen to new music, which I can't do between shows. Listening sessions could be an everyday thing. I could spend a whole month listening to new music and going to London for research.

Do you like the new music coming out of New York?

Yes, I like James Murphy, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, Devendra Banhart.

Who's the last one?

A folk singer. He played live at the Chanel show in New York with his guitarist Noah Georgeson and Eliza, who modeled for Helmut Lang when she was sixteen.

Any movements in music worth mentioning?

Last year there was a British wave, which I found extremely uninteresting. Pete Doherty, I can't stand him. He looks great onstage and has a great energy, which I think Hedi [Slimane] likes. The packaging is interesting, but Hedi calls him a cult, which I don?t agree with. How can you proclaim to be a poet and a misunderstood rock star but your biggest achievements in life are getting stoned all day and dating Kate Moss?

Bless her.

Yeah, she seems to be back on top. She was all over French Vogue not long ago. All over everywhere. I'm happy for her. I think it's good that people aren't still dropping her, but it's becoming something else now. Companies want to rebel from establishment and from being politically correct, so they're beginning to use her just to validate their coolness. Like Longchamp in France using Kate in their ads. It's like saying, "She's a druggy, but we're using her for our ads, so we're cool." (cont'd)


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