The Garish Carnival of Jean Paul Gaultier and Antoine de Caunes' "Eurotrash"
Welcome to your new YouTube hole!
With all the newfound downtime that has come with coronavirus lockdown, we’ve had the opportunity to rethink our lives and our politics in major ways. While we usher in new ways of being, including adopting an entirely new set of polite-but-exhausted email greeting clichés, we also yearn for the comfort of the familiar. This reflective mood of self-isolation is prime territory to dive into the archival depths of pop culture rabbit holes on YouTube.
Perhaps the crown jewel of forgotten ’90s fashion history, Eurotrash was the hit British late-late-night TV show hosted by pre-couture but post-Madonna Jean Paul Gaultier alongside famed French TV presenter, Antoine de Caunes, whose suit and brown coif was the perfect Patrick Bateman-esque foil to Gaultier’s skirts, earrings, and bleached hair. Launched in 1993 on the UK’s Channel 4 public television network, the show ran for a stunning 16 seasons—Gaultier departed in 1996—until its end in 2004. Eurotrash featured star-studded appearances from the era’s most beloved supermodels including Laetitia Casta, Carla Bruni, Eva Herzigova, and Naomi Campbell, as well as other fashion royalty such like the photographer Ellen von Unwerth, the fashion designer Paco Rabanne, and even THE Helmut Newton. Late-night viewers also caught interviews and segments with music and pop culture icons like Boy George, Björk, Donna Summer, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Malcolm McLaren. The French hosts made cracks at their British audience, but not without gleefully ridiculing themselves and all their continental neighbors–no country, no matter how small, was spared. Its campy, high-concept style and outrageous humor sought to report on European art, culture and politics, and perhaps unite the continent by way of its regional quirks and eccentricities years before the European Union became the solidified geopolitical entity we know today.
The show’s success was in large part due to its proximity to the fashion glitterati during the era where supermodels reigned supreme at the top of the celebrity food chain. Models across European constituencies were invited to partake in Gaultier and de Caunes cheeky, gaudy carnival. We were able to see models as we like them best—carefree and jovial, blushing at their own goofy jokes and grinning at the co-host’s antics. In this pre-social media landscape, the fashion world was an exclusive realm of remarkable beauty and lavish design. Fashion media allowed viewers a fleeting but delectable moment of glamour.
In 2016, on the eve of the Brexit referendum, de Caunes was joined by his original co-host, Monsieur Gaultier, for a special installment of the show. It remained true to form, just as committed to reporting on Europe’s best of sex, politics, fashion, and art in the most uncouth manner possible. The show was teased by a reprisal of de Caunes and Gaultier’s most controversial roles as British royals: de Caunes as a grotesque caricature of Prince Charles, and Gaultier now as an elegant Lady Camilla, updated from his original appearance as the late, great Princess Diana. “These big ears and terrifying teeth have been in storage for the past 10 years, but I made sure to get them out to especially for tonight’s show in hopes I might offend you once again,” explains de Caunes. Though _Eurotrash_’s return showed just how much the UK mattered to its European neighbors, the segment succinctly reminded audiences that its only true agenda is (and ever was) to provoke its British viewers—and make them laugh.
I first encountered Eurotrash when surfing YouTube for old clips of Gaultier runway shows. The unrestricted and exorbitant approach of the show, plus the rhythm of the co-host’s French accents as they over-enunciated their way through the English language felt marvelously charming and playful. I was totally hooked: in lockdown, it was the first time I had felt the relief of a good laugh.
With the usual plans to travel Europe gone entirely out the window this summer, Eurotrash brings the best (or perhaps the worst) of Europe right to your bedroom, sweetened with all its nostalgic glory. Gaultier’s status as a darling of the fashion world made his interviewees, such as a bubbly Kylie Minogue during her redhead era, eager to let some personality shine through on the boisterous Eurotrash set. Its perfect equation of innuendo, models as we had never seen them before, sex symbols of days past, a motley crew of bizarre European entertainers, and its star, a young and bashful Jean Paul Gaultier, makes for a cheerful slice of fashion history and a sacrosanct document of ’90s pop culture. In other words, a great way to kill an afternoon.