Source: Annecy Festival/F. Murarotto

Matthieu Zeller. Emilie Freche, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Benoit Philippon

French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier says working on an untitled animated feature with Belgium’s nWave Studios will take “more time than to do a fashion collection”.

Gaultier will be “artistic director” on the film, which Benoit Philippon will direct from a script by French writers Emilie Freche and Amanda Sthers.

Beginning in the countryside boutique of a former fashion model, the film will follow a clothes moth that dreams of becoming a fashion designer, and travels to Paris to launch a fashion show.

With a projected €25m budget, the film will be produced by Matthieu Zeller for nWave Studios, the French-Belgian animation company of which Zeller is CEO and president. It will be made in both French- and English-language dialogue versions, with dubs in other languages.

Sthers originated the project 18 months ago. It is now in early development, with nWave hiring animators in Annecy this week. Production will take place across the next two years before a 2027 launch, with nWave the sole production company on the film. With a small amount of soft money already banked, it is in discussions with distributors that could provide the main part of financing, including major studios.

It is a first animation feature project for Gaultier, who has credits as costume designer for Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.

“He has been involved from the beginning, he will be involved until the end” said Zeller of Gaultier’s role. “Bringing his ideas, vision, inspiring the whole team. It’s artistic director – but it’s more complex than that.”

The company previewed concept images from the film in Annecy, including character and costume drafts. “It’s even better than if it was live action,” said Gaultier of making an animated film. “There is a real relation between animation and my job in fashion, the sketches and the lines. You can do a lot of things directly and have creativity.”

Drawings presented to the Annecy audience included a Parisian fashion studio with giant scissors over the entrance, which Zeller said is inspired by an iconic Gaultier perfume bottle.

Gaultier’s regular collaborator, actress and model Rossy de Palma, will voice the boutique owner across multiple languages, having been involved in developing the character and story from its origins. Madonna will also appear in a fashion show scene, in which seven versions of the pop icon will take to the catwalk in different outfits made for the singer by Gaultier across her career. Conversations are underway for several other “celebrity friends” of the designer to participate. Although it is not a Gaultier biopic, it will include a character partly inspired by him – Paul Vital, a Parisian fashion designer.

Zeller anticipates a total crew of around 350 for the film, of whom “150 to 200” will be nWave’s own in-house animators. The company’s main studio is in Brussels, with additional locations in Liege, Paris and elsewhere in northern France.

European identity

Zeller sees nWave’s identity as European, with an international outlook. “We have been inspired by US animation – Disney and others – by Japanese animation,” said the producer. “You have a lot of talents in Europe. So why not reunite the biggest talents in fashion, and one of the biggest talents in animation, to do something that is genuinely French and European, and that can travel across the world?

“We have a role to play not mimicking US animation,” he continued. “We have stories to tell, and we can tell them our own way, while pleasing the international audience.”

In the Annecy showcase, Gaultier spoke up for diversity in society. “In all of my collections I’ve wanted to show different body shapes, races, haircuts, people who walk differently,” said Gaultier. “Any difference is never an obstacle; it’s a quality.”

Founded in 1994, nWave produces one feature film per year. Next up is Benjamin Mousquet’s Chickenhare and the Very Very (Very) Old Groundhog, a sequel to Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness, that will be delivered by the end of 2024 for release next year. Yugly, which Zeller describes as “the story of the ugliest dog in the world”, will be out in 2026, directed by Jeremie Degruson.

It is only his retirement from fashion that allows him to engage with the lengthy feature animation process, jokes Gaultier, who says he has no plans for other screen works.

However, although he says it would not include his on-screen presence, Gaultier would not rule out one day returning to Eurotrash, the cult TV show he made in the 1990s with Antoine de Caunes for Channel 4. Gaultier worked on the show after the death of his boyfriend Francis Menuge in 1990 from Aids-related causes. “It took me out of that drama – some funny, different things that were all the crap of Europe,” said Gaultier. “It was the opposite of artificial intelligence.”