Paco Rabanne, a space-age master of couture who defined the 1960s, has died at 88 in Portsall, France.
The avant-garde fashion designer has been something of an enigma in recent years, following his departure from fashion at the turn of the millennium. Although his later years were not in the spotlight, the influence of his experimental designs on the industry remains inescapable.
Her revolutionary chainmail gowns, which were the talk of Paris following her debut collection at the George V Hotel on February 1, 1966, remain as desirable as ever. Her namesake house continues to produce collections that nod to her archive today, and her perfume empire, which the Puig conglomerate bought from her in 1986, continues to thrive.
A Puig spokesman confirmed Rabanne’s death. “Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women to clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? José Manuel Albesa, head of the fashion and beauty division at Puig, tells world water day.
Rabanne was born in the Basque region of northern Spain in 1934, and his mother, who was head seamstress in the atelier of renowned Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga in San Sebastián, introduced him to fashion design.
After studying architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which was financed in part by the sales of his exceptional fashion illustrations, Rabanne began to rise through the upper echelons of the design industry.
In his early years, this was defined by the ready-to-wear accessories he produced, often using rhodoid plastic, for leading courtiers including Dior, Nina Ricci and Balenciaga. In 1966 he presented his first collection under his own name, called “Twelve unwearable dresses in contemporary materials”. To add a modern wow factor, the models stepped out barefoot in their sci-fi gladiator-style outfits.
One of these dresses, made from aluminum plates with metal joints, is part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and bears a clear resemblance to those that continue to define Paco Rabanne’s collections today.
Rabanne’s next collection, shown in April 1966, caused more of a stir when Parisian cabaret stars modeled striptease-style swimsuits made of leather and rhodium discs. These two shows saw him explode onto the couture scene and earned him the title ‘terrible boy’.
His innovative use of unlikely industrial materials is what set him apart from the rest. Futuristic silhouettes helped define the space-age revolution that defined the luxury fashion of the 1960s, along with other designers such as Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges. While they shared an aesthetic, Rabanne’s unimaginable outfits were unique in their use of acrylic discs, paper, and steel. This led Coco Chanel to call him “the metal worker”. His other experiments included weaving with fur, making block-shaped garments, and creating outfits out of buttons, coconuts, and wood.
However, not everything turned out on the catwalk. Rabanne was admired for his costume design. Most famously, he created the green disco mini dress worn by Jane Fonda in the 1968 Roger Vadim film. barbarella, and other film highlights include creations in Casino Royale and two for the roadboth released in 1967.
Looking back at archival photos of his collections between 1966 and 1999, most of his creations feel as unorthodox and radical as ever. It is the legacy of a daring and furiously creative original.