Look who's talking: Male and female below the waist: The fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier explains how he managed to get so close to Madonna's breasts

WAS I ever a fashion victim myself? Never. Well, maybe in 1970 I was a bit. I wasn't a victim in the sense of blindly doing whatever was in fashion, but I would wear what I thought suited me.

My childhood had been spent in a Parisian suburb and wasn't very exciting. I know it sounds like a cliche, but I was bored with the real world and couldn't be bothered to play football with the other boys, so I sketched all the time. I also designed clothes and, when I was seven, made a pointed bra out of paper for Nana, my teddy bear. Everything serves, even something I thought up when I was seven. Many years later I used the same design for Madonna's bra; I suppose I got closer to Madonna's breasts than most men, though not in the way most dream.

Madonna and I do keep in touch, usually by fax because of the time difference between Paris and Los Angeles. I always want to know who she's dating.

I longed to make clothes and design collections since I was a child. Today, including accountants and couturiers, I have a team of about 30 people around me, and my collections take up almost all of my time. My biggest markets are Britain, America and Japan, but the recession affected everyone. It quickly became evident that fashion is not essential and while we always need clothes, fashion clothes are a luxury.

A good 80 per cent of my designs are made in Italy, and when I first went there it was because of cost. Italian manufacture was cheaper than French or British. Now the costs have become expensive there, too, but the quality is still better.

I first came up with skirts for men in 1983, but it wasn't really something new, men have always worn them. In some countries - Greece, Scotland, Bali and Thailand - it's national dress. Skirts don't belong to one particular sex, they can actually be very masculine. It just depends who's wearing them. I'm wearing leather trousers under a skirt, it means I'm in control of both my masculinity and femininity. It also means I'm doubly sexy, peut-etre?

Television presenting represents only about 2 per cent of my work. And maybe the money I get from it is only 2 per cent of my income - I'm not saying. Making Eurotrash for Channel 4 takes very little time, no more than going out to a restaurant for an evening. It's completely unrehearsed, although we usually have to record four takes of each link until we get it right. The series isn't broadcast back in France, and over there I'm only known as a designer. I don't think the French appreciate the fact that I'm French so much.

I have been alone since my partner, Francis, died. Home is an apartment in Paris, small, but big enough for me. I also spend quite a lot of my time over here, going out with friends. I always stay at Blakes Hotel, west London, booking a self-contained basement apartment, which gives me privacy with all the advantages of living in a hotel. It's one of the luxuries my success has given me. Another is the ability to make what I love, how I like - with freedom to express myself and without too much pressure.

(Photograph omitted)

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