When Julien Dossena quit his job as a designer at Balenciaga in December 2012, after the departure of his boss, Nicolas Ghesquière, panic soon set in. “There was no point in staying on,” he admits. “But I’d worked there for four years, often 24/7, and it felt sad.”
Not that he felt that way for long. Just a few weeks later, the boyishly handsome 31-year-old was offered a consultancy at Paco Rabanne. The house’s owner, the Puig group, was struggling to revive Paco Rabanne’s allure as a futuristic label that had dazzled the fashion scene in the 1960s alongside Courrèges and Pierre Cardin. Having gone through two chief designers in as many years, CEO Marc Puig offered the creative director role to Dossena just eight months after he’d joined the company. Dossena’s first collection of glossy leather dresses, metal mesh tops, and silver jeans was widely praised when it was unveiled in Paris last autumn. “I’ve always loved Paco Rabanne for its rebelliousness and modernity,” Dossena enthuses. “I want the new collections to have the same aesthetic impact, but for the young women of now.”
It is worth remembering just how radical Paco Rabanne, now 80 and retired, was. He got his start in 1966 with the collection 12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials, in which he used metal, plastic, rubber, and cardboard. He continued to experiment with paper, knitted-fur, and fiberglass clothes for, among others, the singer Françoise Hardy and the actress Brigitte Bardot. Well known for his spiritual beliefs, Rabanne fled Paris shortly before August 11, 1999, convinced that on that day the Russian space station Mir would fall on the city and obliterate it.
Dossena himself is partial to futuristic visions, albeit as a sci-fi enthusiast who enjoys J.G. Ballard’s novels rather than as a prophet of doom. He was born in Brittany, studied art history in Paris, and then fashion in Brussels. After graduating, in 2008, he was hired by Ghesquière, who is now his boyfriend. Participating in Balenciaga’s technical experiments was ideal preparation for Paco Rabanne, which shares a similar laboratorial culture: For his debut, Dossena worked with some of the original Paco Rabanne fabric suppliers, but he took advantage of the latest technologies. “Chain mail was Paco Rabanne’s signature,” observes Laure Heriard Dubreuil, who ordered the collection for her Miami store, the Webster. “But Julien designed the pieces to look lightweight and effortless.”
Rejuvenating the clothes is only the start for Dossena, who also runs Atto, a label he cofounded with two fellow Balenciaga alums. Like Ghesquière and other designers he admires—including Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang—he sees the collection as part of a wider vision. “If you begin with the clothes and add the bags, the logo, the boutiques, and everything else, then you can go like a cannonball!” he says. “What I love about sci-fi is that you get to invent a whole world, complete with landscape, architecture, and characters. Paco Rabanne did that with his women in metal dresses surrounded by metal walls and metal furniture. Now it’s up to me to build my own visual reality.”
Hair by Marion Anée for Leonor Greyl at airportagency.com; makeup by Aude Gill at Studio 57. Models: Lena Hardt at DNA Model Management; Harleth Kuusik at the Society Management; Mijo Mihaljcic at IMG Models; Maja Salamon at Next Management. Digital technician: Nick Dehadray; photography assistants: Edward Singleton, Paul Jedwab; fashion assistant: Florie Vitse; production: Belinda Foord at Shiny Projects.