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Iconoclastic French Designer's Drawings Make Fashion Fun Again

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac is known as the "King of the Unconventional."
All images courtesy the artist

Paris is well-regarded as the fashion capital of the world. Although there is an unofficial uniform of good taste for many Parisians, there are a select few like Jean-Charles de Castelbajac who relish breaking the rules. In the 1970s, de Castelbajac began designing colorful, vibrant clothing that earned him the nickname "King of the Unconventional." He designed a two-person poncho, dresses that reference classic French literature, and colorful gowns that look lifted straight from a Picasso painting. One of his most iconic designs was a coat of teddy bears worn by Madonna. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with the likes of Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the Sex Pistols.


To represent his 40-year career in fashion, de Castelbajac created three different sets of 40 drawings for his new show 40 Passages, showing now in Paris. The word "passage" does literally mean passage, but it can also be used to refer to the moment when a model walks down a catwalk. So a "40 passage" show would be a fashion show with 40 different looks — represented in de Castelbajac's gallery show as 40 separate drawings.

"I've spent my life integrating art into fashion, it's high time I start incorporating fashion into my art," de Castelbajac says in a statement about his new show.

The drawings (all acrylic on paper) center on a graphic, minimalist theme. There are usually fewer than four colors in each drawing, but each one is representative of the joie de vivre and eccentricity that permeates de Castelbajac's fashion career.

Some subjects appear like morphed fashion croquis who care more about having fun than having classically good taste. Others are charming, close-up line portraits and others are just cheeky drawings for something like a Dior No.5 perfume or a man with a hot dog for a nose.

The show is on display at the Mannerheim Gallery in Paris through July 31. For more of de Castelbajac's work, visit his website.


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