Paco Rabanne has always tested the boundaries of texture. The designer’s first show in 1966 was titled “Manifesto: 12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials”; that became the foundation upon which Rabanne built a business on the unconventional—through materials, yes, but also perfume names (his first scent, Calandre, literally translates to “car grill”). It’s therefore fitting that the first Paco Rabanne presentation to take place following the passing of the Spanish eccentric sent the brand right back to those tactile roots.
“This collection is the logical continuity of a process of exploration: exploration of fabrics, exploration of forms, exploration of confronting textures,” the brand’s creative director, Julien Dossena, told W over email. And when Dossena set out to create the fall 2023 collection, that was his focus. He didn’t know he would be honoring the legacy of the founder, who passed away last month at the age of 88. At first, he just wanted to honor a friendship. Dossena partnered with the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí for the show to help showcase the relationship between the designer and painter. Their bond, formed through their joint Spanish heritage, was also compounded by their “radical artistic expression,” as explained in the show notes.
The surrealism which defined Dalí’s work was clear in the March 1 presentation—on the dresses printed with the artist’s paintings, of course, but also in the form of bejeweled pomegranates taking the place of a model’s heart as it erupted from a sequined top—but so too was the spirit of Rabanne. Texture was at the forefront of the collection, with wool manipulated to depict fur and dresses of plexiglass links providing a rattling accompaniment to the show music. “I projected a surrealist spirit grounded in a real-world sensibility,” Dossena said.
When Dossena first took over the brand in 2014, he spent some time developing his own perspective, instead of simply falling back on the signature metal designs—the “armor”—associated with the brand. Around 2017, the metals returned, but not in a way that made Dossena’s collections feel kitschy, like Barbarella cosplay. He was able to work them into the designs, in a modern way, like a part of the natural growth of the brand—what the Paco woman would wear in the 21st century. That exploration continued for fall 2023. Shards of silver erupted from a sculpted bra, lurex-entwined-knitwear created glamorous takes on a winter uniform. “Today, we continue to think ahead and project new possibilities, while still proposing an accessible wardrobe that’s easy to read and to wear,” Dossena said. “My personal take is to balance this avant-gardism with the concept of romanticism, through the notion of effortlessness and a mix of textures bringing more lightness.”
Following Dossena’s parade of fuzzy knits, shimmering sets, and dangling crystals, the show closed with five looks instantly recognizable as Rabanne’s creations. Recordings of the late designer played for the audience as they took a trip back in fashion time. “We enjoy ourselves immensely here,” Rabanne said in French. “Basically, we make clothes, we try them on the model, and we burst out laughing for a whole day. It’s wonderfully fun.” From the looks of it, that much hasn’t changed.