Paco Rabanne is now simply called Rabanne, nothing else has changed: the brand with the legendary metallic designs is in demand like never before. The creative director put more pressure on himself in his early days.
Many brands now change designers every few years. I’ve been in the house for ten years. What are you doing differently?
Julien Dossena: True, it is almost unusually long. When I started, in 2013, there were only the very successful perfumes of Paco Rabanne, but almost no fashion. I was given absolute freedom and a lot of time. You can no longer have either today. We didn’t have to deliver an instant hit that quickly made you trendy. We managed to build the brand slowly, little by little. This is the recipe
To most people at the time you were a complete newcomer. Advantage or disadvantage?
In which way?
No one had particularly high expectations of me and the brand. It was very pleasant. We only put pressure on ourselves.
What tweed is to Chanel, metal is to Paco Rabanne, especially the famous chainmail made up of small metal plates. Don’t you get a little bored sometimes?
I didn’t work on it at all for the first three years. Because I didn’t want us to become the niche brand where you buy a metallic dress for New Year’s Eve. Only when the brand gradually established itself and we also sold jackets and trousers did I allow myself to start with metal. And so far I haven’t had enough!
Paco Rabanne was called “the plumber” because he made his clothes out of metal using tools. Do people still use tongs in the studio today?
Of course, this is our mastery. The special connection of the metal elements is on the one hand very simple and on the other hand very demanding because a cut is carried out at the same time. Every ring, every little eyelet must be in a certain place on the body for the dress to fit correctly. Maybe it’s more comparable to knitting. At the beginning there was only one person in the studio specialized in this technique: Christophe, who had already worked with Paco Rabanne. He’s still with us, but now he’s coached an entire team. The director of this atelier is only about 25 years old and she comes from a high fashion background, but she really wanted to learn this craft.
What was your first “fashion moment”?
When I was eight or nine years old, I saw a Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show on television. I come from a small fishing village in Brittany, fashion wasn’t a problem there. And suddenly I saw this smiling man on the news, explaining his collection backstage. It seemed like he was working with all his friends; there were these beautiful dresses everywhere. I remember thinking: Oh, so this is a job? Do you draw and design clothes, then put on a show with music and everyone seems to be having the time of their lives? This is a dream job!
After graduation, you started as an intern at Balenciaga and became Nicolas Ghesquière’s right-hand man, who now designs for Louis Vuitton. The most important advice from him?
He often told me: “Many people manage to play at the highest level for three or four years. But the really difficult thing is to be relevant in the long term. You have to keep evolving, keep growing, stay curious, keep your passion and then offer something new every season. This long-term reflection helped me a lot.
Yves Saint Laurent has become Saint Laurent, Salvatore Ferragamo is now just Ferragamo, Paco Rabanne is now just Rabanne. Are the names out of order?
This is a business decision for very pragmatic reasons. In some countries the brand is simply easier to understand. For me personally it has the advantage that “Paco Rabanne” now clearly means the founder and not the current brand.
Paco Rabanne died last February. Do you remember where the news of his death reached you?
We were in the studio, only a few weeks until the show. We were all very moved by it and immediately thought about what a nice tribute to him could be. In the end, we sent six models down the runway wearing clothes from the archive and put his voice on the soundtrack, as if he were in the room with us. The effect was even better than we thought because his designs still appeared current and modern even after sixty years. We hope it was the best parting gift we could have given him.
They never wanted to meet the founder. Why not?
Out of respect, I would say, and courtesy. When he retired in the late ’90s, he wanted to abandon fashion and focus on a new chapter in his life. I wanted to respect that. It was probably also a precautionary measure. My mission here is to redefine the brand. With more distance I can be much more objective. What if I liked him so much that I suddenly became embarrassed and just wanted to please him?
His current autumn collection and a capsule collection for Mytheresa are partly inspired by Salvador Dalí. How did it happen?
I always knew that there was a friendship and mutual admiration between Paco Rabanne and Salvador Dalí. Then I saw a 1960s video of a Dalí performance with Amanda Lear in Paris. She was his muse and model for Rabanne, there were all the hippies there in a white room, and Dalí, with typical charisma and exuberance, shouts: “Now I present to you the other Spanish genius: Paco Rabanne!” Amanda Lear wears a fishnet dress and Rabanne explains her passion for metal. The “bond” between him and Dalí was immediately noticeable; they were both sensual fetishists. This inspired me. In the video they then throw the sewing machines on the floor and say: “We don’t need them anymore! The old couturiers belong to the past, we are the future!”
Have you ever broken a sewing machine yourself?