Jean-Charles de Castelbajac

Elizabeth Tregenza

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA243

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac was born in 1949 in Casablanca, Morocco. His first design role was working for his mother’s company, Ko and Co., in 1968. In 1969 he created the Jesus Jeans brand. The brand name caused controversy, particularly because of an early advertising campaign, created by Oliviero Toscani, that featured women in small denim shorts alongside passages from the Bible. Despite this, in 1997 Castelbajac created rainbow-style vestments for priests to wear at the Vatican on World Youth Day.

In the late 1960s, Castelbajac established himself as a designer of the newly emergent French prêt-à-porter. He created several lines for Paris manufacturer Pierre d’Alby and by 1975 had opened his own business. While continuing to design under his own name, he created the Sportmax brand for the Italian house Max Mara and worked with the Italian brand Iceberg to design a range of sweaters inspired by pop art, using motifs borrowed from cartoons. In 1993 Castelbajac was appointed head designer for Courrèges, after André Courrèges retired. This role lasted only two seasons.

From the outset of Castelbajac’s design career, cartoons have been a key element in his garments. This led Jefferson Hack, the founder of Dazed and Confused magazine, to describe him as the king of cartoon couture. Particularly in the 1980s, Castelbajac was part of a group of European designers—including Fiorucci and Moschino—who created pieces heavily inspired by pop art.

Castelbajac’s clothing has always been strongly linked with musicians. Meeting Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren in the 1970s greatly inspired his work and he recognized a synthesis between fashion and music. Numerous musicians have worn garments by Castelbajac. Madonna wore a coat made from teddy bears as an anti-fur protest in the 1980s, while Katy Perry donned a dress emblazoned with Barack Obama’s face to show her support for the politician in the run-up to the 2008 election. In the late 2000s, the designer became connected with the UK grime scene after meeting some of the musicians during a retrospective of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The grime MCs he met referred to him as “JCDC,” which led to a diffusion line in 2010 called JCDC, featuring Castelbajac’s cartoon couture at a more affordable price point.

Castelbajac has also worked in other areas of art and design, creating home furnishings and designing watches inspired by Lego. In 2009 he held his first solo art exhibition, “The Triumph of the Sign,” in which he commissioned Chinese artists to copy classical Western paintings and then applied the logos of contemporary companies.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Fall/Winter 1983. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Haj-Najafi Daryoush. “Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.” Vice, 7 April 2010. http://www.vice.com/read/jean-charles-de-castelbajac .

Find in Library Kellog T. et al. In an Influential Fashion: An Encyclopaedia of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Fashion Designers and Retailers Who Transformed Dress . Westport, CT : Greenwood Press, 2002.

Find in Library Martin Richard , ed. Contemporary Fashion . New York : St James Press, 1995.

Find in Library O’Hara Callan Georgina. The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Fashion and Fashion Designers . London : Thames and Hudson, 1998.