Paco Rabanne: The Architecture of Clothing April 19 2022

Paco Rabanne was born Francisco “Paco” Rabaneda Cuervo in San Sebastian, Spain in February of 1934. His mother was the Chief Seamstress at Balenciaga’s Spanish salon. His father was executed during the Spanish Civil War, causing Paco and his mother to flee to France in 1939. Originally an architecture student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts (he graduated in 1964), Rabanne switched paths and began his fashion career by designing jewelry for Givenchy, Dior, and Balenciaga. In 1966 he founded his own fashion house.

His first runway show in 1966 was titled “12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials,” and caused quite a stir in the fashion world. The garments were made of discs of Rhodoid plastic that were joined with metal rings and established Rabanne’s place as an experimental designer.
Rabanne was known for several things; first, his use of unconventional material—plastic, metal, paper, knitted fur, fiberglass, and other mediums frequently made their way into his designs. From looking at many of his designs, it is not hard to see the influence of his architecture background. Second, Rabanne was known for his film costume designs—think Jane Fonda in Barbarella. His designs were worn by many women the American public paid attention to—Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigette Bardot. Third, Rabanne was known for his fragrances, the first of which (Calandre) was released in 1969. Since then, the fashion house has released 30-something more fragrances.

Audrey Hepburn in Paco Rabanne

Eventually consumers became less enamored with the hard edges of Rabanne’s unique materials, favoring softer looks and fabrics instead. In the 1980s, Rabanne followed suit and put aside the plastic, turning to paper, cotton toweling, feathers, and leather. The 1990s brought a further step away from unconventional design materials, and featured designs primarily using man-made fabrics.
Rabanne retired in 1999 after presenting his final collection—in 2000 Rosemary Rodriguez joined the company as the head designer. In the early 2000s, Rodriguez slowly brought back the metals and plastics that originally made the line a success, incorporating them in more of a new and modern way. There have been several changes in head designer since Rodriguez left the company several years after her appointment, but the line has been headed by Creative Director Julien Dossena since 2013. True to its origins, the house’s runway shows most often incorporate the architectural tendencies Paco Rabanne first introduced in the 1960s. There is still experiments with different materials, still structured clothing with sometimes an in-your-face, futuristic look. Whatever the magic formula is between architecture, unconventional materials, and fashion, it’s clear the Paco Rabanne line has found it.

Paco Rabanne Design 1974/1975

written by Heather Cox for Rice and Beans Vintage