By Erin Moonyeen Haley
When referring to Paco Rabanne - who passed away February 3, 2023 - the word most often applied is virtuoso. Simply put, the term means anyone who is highly skilled in their chosen artistic field. Looking at the carnival of couture that walked the runway in Rabanne's name at Paris Fashion Week 2023, virtuoso almost seems too small, too petite, too minimal of a word; the looks that appeared on the runway were not only parts of a subconscious surrealist daydream of Dali's favorite things, they were also a reminder that Rabanne was always audacious, utilizing technology and materials overlooked by others. As a closing coda, the show punctuated the show by featuring Rabanne's most famous paneled dresses, a reminder that, without his intrepid creativity, fashion's trajectory might have been a predictable, placid lifeline.
Designer Julien Dossena paid homage to Rabanne by placing a signed note on each seat "that thanked "Monsieur Rabanne” for his “utopic creative approach” and “radical expression”. He then honored the maverick designer by ending the show with a series of Rabanne's 1960s dresses that had catapulted him not just into fame, but into the public consciousness. These dresses reflected the Space Age influence that had seized the creative world of architecture, (think Doo Wop hotels and motels), as well as fashion designers. For the Paris '23 show, however, dresses were not just a spacey reminiscence, but also a flashback to Rabanne's 1966 show called "12 Unwearable Dresses", a show that shocked all of Paris. The dresses had been made from plastic strips that were loosely held together by metal rings, a design that essentially snubbed traditional craftsmanship and rules of couture.
In the wake of that daredevil show, Rabanne further flaunted the rules of convention when he told reporters in 1967 that, “Haute couture is nothing but a decomposing cadaver surrounded by vultures: publishers, journalists, columnists and advertising people … They cannot bring themselves to face the fact that fashion is dead, which is why they spend their time trying so hard to make the corpse look alive and well."
According to Vogue, Salvador Dali once said, "There are only two geniuses in Spain: me and Paco Rabanne." With such praise, it's little wonder that Dossena - with participation from the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí - channeled the mind-tripping artist. Dresses were a living, breathing manifestation of such works as "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening". Painted in 1944, the painting featured tigers in mid-hunt and was said to have been prompted by a dream that Dali's wife Gala had. another dress features "Meditative Rose", a 1958 painting that is considered one of Dali's more cerebral, enigmatic works. Other paintings that made cameo appearances on paneled, maxi-length dresses were "The Shades of Night Descending" and "Sun-Table."
The show included glittery gold skirts, perspex dresses and aluminum foil suits. For accessories, there were slinky, disco-era scarves and chainmail purses. There also seemed to be a balanced nod towards the past with Grecian style dresses made from gossamer fabrics, and then a continuous embrace of the future, thanks to chandelier skirts with strips of silver and gold, as if the skirts could double as party favors or portable chandeliers. There was also a nod to Rabanne's native Spain with floral patterns and skirts reminiscent of a flamenco dancer.
Dali surely would have approved.
Images courtesy of Vogue