Focus On Fashion: Paco Rabanne

by Raymond


I'd like to continue our look at the swinging sixties with probably the most outlandish and controversial of the 60s designers: Paco Rabanne.

Paco Rabanne was born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo on February 18, 1934 in Pasajes, Spain. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he and his mother fled Spain for France. In 1952, while studying architecture at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, he met intellectuals and artists. To finance his studies, he produced accessories for the couturiers of the day such as Givenchy, Dior, and Balenciaga and became involved in all forms of artistic expression. Attracted by the tremendous energy stimulated by artistic research he decided to create Haute-Couture clothing. In 1965 he presented his first collection of 12 contemporary dresses called "the Unwearables." These included his first plastic dress.

He started his own fashion house in 1966. He used unconventional materials such as metal, paper and plastic for his flamboyant designs. In the 1960s he was known as the bad boy of the French fashion world. He believed that the only new frontier left in fashion was the discovery and utilization of new materials, rather than the old couture method of changing lines from season to season. He broke with tradition and began experimenting with plastic and aluminum, to create some of the most eccentric yet influential garments of the decade. It was estimated that by 1966 Rabanne was using 30,000 meters of Rhodoid plastic per month in such designs as a dress made of phosphorescent plastic discs linked by metal chains. When he had exhausted the possibilities of plastic, he created a contemporary version of chainmail using tiny triangles of aluminum and leather held together with flexible wire rings to construct a series of simple shift mini dresses.


Paco Rabanne was in demand as a costume designer for the movies, theatre and ballet. One of his most famous outfits is the costume for Jane Fonda in the science-fiction film "Barbarella" in 1968. In the seventies, Paco Rabanne was the first to use African American models, which was thought to be quite outrageous then. He pioneered fake suede dresses, knit and fur coats, dresses with ribbons and feathers or tassels linked to provide suppleness. By 1975 he was still bending hard-edged materials into dresses, but very few people wore them. Women had discovered the appeal of softer, ethnic looks.

In the late 1970s and 1980s the name Paco Rabanne became associated with male toiletries rather than for the intriguing clothing he had been producing. Rabanne relied on the sales of his successful line of fragrances—including Calandre, Paco, and Metal—to finance his more artistic projects. In 1971 he collaborated with Louis Giffard, an authority on flow-molding techniques, to produce a raincoat molded entirely in one piece of plastic. Even the buttons were part of the same process, molded directly into the garment and fitting into pressed-out pieces on the other side of the coat.

In 1989 Paco Rabanne was awarded the Golden Thimble at the 1st International Festival of Fashion. His collections from the 80s were constructed out of crinkled paper, strips of aluminum, rough cotton toweling, Perspex, maze-like configurations of patchwork leather, ostrich feathers and upholstery tassels.

In 1990 Rabanne open his new boutique on the rue de Cherche Midi, Paris. With the 1960s renaissance in full swing in the 1990’s, the inventive genius of Rabanne has been rediscovered. His latest collections concentrating on stretch jersey, cotton, and viscose fabrics in metallic hues, still accessorized by enormous pieces of jewelry.

In 1999, Paco Rabanne presented his final collection and retired. The Spanish financial house of Puig bought the house of Paco Rabanne in 2000. A major retrospective exhibition of the design work of Paco Rabanne was mounted at the Galleria Carla Sozzani in Milan, from September to November 2002.