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Saying Goodbye to a Fashion Legend: Paco Rabanne

By Erin Moonyeen Haley

While the word ‘iconic’ can be overused, Paco Rabanne was the type of designer who defined and then redefined the term, making it a brand as well as a self-determined prediction. Born in 1934 during the height of the Spanish Civil War, his father was killed in 1937 by fascist dictator Francisco Franco. The family fled to Paris and the rest is history. Upon announcing his death, José Manuel Albesa, president of Puig’s fashion and beauty, reminded the world that “Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women to clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal?”

His legacy will no doubt include copious references to his space-age aesthetic, both in shape and in materials used. Perhaps one of the most famous outfits is the 1968 wedding dress, a chainmail-like sculpted gown made from plastic strips and mirrored discs.

His disco-era sequined dresses became standouts for the designer and hinted at his history with architecture. He often used metals in the form of washers to bring his futuristic creations to life, embellishing outfits with materials that are no longer part of the fashion world today.

A connoisseur of the eccentric, his early designs were featured in editorial spreads with the likes of Salvador Dali.

His designs were not confined to the runway, as he also worked on the set of Casino Royale (1966), styling clothes for ingenues like Julie Harris. Like the wedding dress of 1968, he made these dresses by stringing the metal plates up in a pearlized process, using fine wire and beads in between.

In addition to Casino Royale, his nonconformist style ensured that the costumes he made for Barbarella (1968) were infused with techno-camp.

At the crux of his designs was an embrace of new technologies and new personalities, eschewing the strict silhouettes and tailored tameness that was signature of predictable haute couture. His clothing loved the time it was being created in.

Like many a designer before and since, Rabenne found muses from the world of music, in particular, singer-songwriter and gamine cover girl, Françoise Hardy. She wore Rabanne's signature tiled gown on the 1968 cover of Elle Magazine.

She would go to model the gown in a variety of images, and in a variety of metallic shades.

Rabanne will also be remembered for being one of the first designers to hire Black Models for his shows at a time when racism overtly ruled the runway. Models such as Sandi Collins and Donyale Luna were among the superstars to wear Rabanne's designs, with Collins starring in his "12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials" show.

Rabanne was at his most sincere when he was being shocking, and it was this embrace of the unconventional that will keep his styles and fashion philosophies at the forefront of an industry that all too often treats trends like ephemeral happenstance rather than pure genius.

Naomi Campbell, Elle France, 1997


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