Paco Rabanne, fashion designer and perfumer whose space-age aesthetic matched his New Age philosophy – obituary

Paco Rabanne with two of his models during the 1996 Paris Fashion Week – Stephane Cardinale/Corbis

Paco Rabanne, who has died at 88, was a fashion designer who rose to stardom in the 1960s with some unwearable clothes, made his fortune in aftershave for the next 20 years, and then he became known as a guru of New Age philosophy.

His story, according to his published philosophy works, began 78,000 years ago when he came to Earth from the planet Altair to build a permanent settlement, which would later become Atlantis. Since then, he has claimed to have lived through multiple incarnations, including casting a spell as the Egyptian priest who assassinated King Tutankhamun; like the prophet Daniel; as an acquaintance of Christ and as an 18th-century prostitute who died at age 17 after a “brief period of lust on the Champs-Élysées.”

metal working - Keystone-France

metal working – Keystone-France

Alongside this narrative, Rabanne made a number of predictions, including the claim, in The Dawn of the Golden Age: A Spiritual Design for Living, published in English in 1999, that the Mir space station would fall to Earth and destroy Paris. . When the month of this predicted disaster, August 1999, passed without incident, Rabanne refused to back down, simply suggesting that he had been wrong in giving an exact date.

While such pronouncements may have been embarrassing for House Rabanne (and frustrating for any journalist trying to get to the truth), they did little to damage his international reputation, and indeed may have polished it among those who saw him as the foremost of French fashion. senior terrible child.

Jane Fonda - Allstar/Alamy

Jane Fonda – Allstar/Alamy

This was a couturier, after all, whose early collections in the 1960s included dresses weighing more than 60 pounds. Eschewing cloth and wool, Rabanne made clothing out of plastic plates (he was especially fond of rhodoids) and metal. He worked with black models at a time when they were extremely rare in the industry, and instead of having them parade in the usual quiet silence, he had them dance to pop music.

Rabanne’s innovations were initially considered outrageous, but were inevitably embraced by the fashion elite. Audrey Hepburn appeared in one of her heavy metal dresses in her 1967 film Two for the Road; Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg shone in their iridescent, chainmail-inspired outfits. These were held together with wire and glue (“sewing is tying,” Rabanne once declared), and molded to the shape of the wearer’s body.

A 2002 Rabanne Creation - Geoff Pugh

A 2002 Rabanne Creation – Geoff Pugh

Later ventures included the first real foray into throwaway fashion, with a line of paper dresses sold in little bags for 15 francs, and suits constructed of dozens of button-links. Rabanne also designed various costumes for plays, ballets and films, including the cod Amazon uniforms worn by the “girls on the watch” in the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale.
For the intergalactic sex goddess Barbarella in Roger Vadim’s 1968 film of the same name, he produced pirate-style leather boots, tank tops made of clear molded plastic, and a green dress that looked like a space-age lampshade (and offered as much coverage as ).

But as with most post-war fashion designers, true wealth only came with the launch of their diffusion and perfume ranges. Calandre (1969, named by the French for the radiator grill of a car), Paco Rabanne pour Hommes (1974) and XS (1993-94) were some of the most successful fragrances of their time, while Lady Million (2010 ) – sold in diamond Pear-shaped bottles with embossed gold caps, played with ideas of extravagance. In another indication of the designer’s forward-thinking tactics, Paco Rabanne was one of the first brands to be tested in a men’s magazine; Playboy readers in July 1984 received an insert imbued with the latest luxury fragrance.

Rabanne - Historic Corbis

Rabanne – Historic Corbis

Although Rabanne was, he admitted, “quite upset once” to hear himself described in passing as “the perfume man”, financial figures confirmed this description. By 1987, the Spanish cosmetics group Puig, which already owned Parfums Paco Rabanne, had also taken control of the clothing business, and by the new millennium, billing within the House of Rabanne had come to depend on large measure of perfume sales.

The departure of Rabanne himself, who at the time was being openly derided as “Wacky Paco” in the popular French press, caused some to wonder if the fashion house had a future. Only with the arrival of the Breton designer Julien Dossena, who became Paco Rabanne’s creative director in 2013, did things start to look up. Items in Dossena’s revamped collections ranged from skinny jeans and bomber jackets to lighter versions of the founding father’s chainmail gowns.

In his last incarnation, Paco Rabanne Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo was born in the Spanish Basque Country, near San Sebastián, on February 18, 1934. His maternal grandfather had been one of the first Spanish socialists assassinated by the Civil Guard; His father led the Republican forces against Franco in the north. During the first five years of his life, Francisco had to deal with shelling and machine gun fire as he was moved from one camp to another.

Pieces by Rabanne from 1995 - Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Getty

Pieces by Rabanne from 1995 – Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Getty

After her father was captured and executed in 1939, she escaped with her mother across the Pyrenees. The family found relative stability in Morlais, a quiet rural part of Brittany, where Francis was raised mainly by women. The most influential were her mother, a staunch socialist and atheist who had been a seamstress at the Balenciaga fashion house in Spain, and her grandmother, a devout Catholic whose faith, as she later recalled, “happily included white magic and the occult.” “. .

At the age of seven she discovered a gift for out-of-body travel (“astral planning”), which her grandmother encouraged and supplemented with lessons in magical self-protection and healing through the laying on of hands.

In 1952 he came to Paris to study architecture at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Here, under the auspices of Auguste Perret, one of the first men to build in reinforced concrete, he developed an enthusiasm for modernism. To pay for his studies, he designed and sold accessories to the great couturiers of the day: Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Dior. Concluding that the fashion world was “sinking into sterile stagnation”, he embarked on a major “provocative gesture”, his 1964 debut collection, pointedly titled “Twelve Experimental Dresses”.

Rabanne tests one of his designs on a Barbie doll - Micheline Pelletier/Sygma/Getty

Rabanne tests one of his designs on a Barbie doll – Micheline Pelletier/Sygma/Getty

Two years later, she followed it up with a couture collection she called “Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials.” Her clothes were worn by barefoot models who paraded to the sound of Le marteau sans maître by Pierre Boulez; although the lack of shoes was an economic measure, the music was deliberately chosen for impact.

Coco Chanel summed up the concern of the fashion elite when she declared of the newcomer: “He is not a tailor, but a metalworker.” Soon, however, Rabanne’s admirers came to include Françoise Hardy, Audrey Hepburn and Salvador Dalí – the surrealist even went so far as to proclaim him “Spain’s second genius” – after Dalí himself.

Unlike many designers, Rabanne did not spend his fortune on private yachts or castles. He dressed simply, avoiding neckties (“the symbol of the hangman’s noose”), and claimed to have no car and few personal possessions. A considerable part of the money from him went to charity, including a hospice run by monks in central France.

Never married.

Paco Rabanne, born February 18, 1934, died February 3, 2023

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