Realness. Paco Rabanne SS21

Like many designers this season, Paco Rabanne‘s Julien Dossena focused on his signatures. Spring-summer 2021 show was an impressive vocabulary of the designer’s distinct takeaways he came up with for the brand – and it ranges from clothes you would see on the streets in Paris to chain-mail craftsmanship which equals to couture. And, as a matter of fact, the runway started on an actual street. The venue had a wide-open entrance in the background – the glimpse of the street was an intentional part of Dossena’s love letter to the girls of his neighborhood, not just the need of keeping Espace Commines safely aerated for the occasion. “I realized how much I’ve been missing being in the streets, passing people, looking at their style,” he said. “I’ve always lived just near here, between the Third and the 11th arrondissements. It’s a really diverse area, with people coming from everywhere, and expressing their individuality. I wanted to work some local realness. It’s what I’ve been really happy to get back to after confinement.” Recent controversies in France have made Dossena all the more convinced that he wants to stick up for young women’s rights to dress as they please: “I wanted to show a generous, affirmative sensuality. I was really noticing women in the street who were brave enough to embrace their femininity. Wearing super-short skirts, décolleté, and being proud of it.” Without even knowing what informed that underlying subtext some of the contrasts between last season, which was staged in the grand surroundings of the medieval Conciergerie, and this one, are refreshingly apparent. There’s the new emphasis on long-line jackets and midiskirts, a mix-up of sequins and stripes, lace and lingerie tops, and the suggestion that, actually, the glittery glamour of Paco Rabanne can go just as well with jeans. “And a kind of ironic flea market feeling,” he added. Many of the women walking in his show were friends: actresses, writers, interns, junior designers, students. Most definitely, everyone who was French in the house would have been conscious of the relevance of Dossena’s crop tops and the fact that he’d very visibly implanted bra cups into his complicated lace slip dresses. Since schools returned in September, a national row broke out when teenage girls were turned away from schools for wearing cropped tops and short skirts. The girls – protesting against being gaslighted for indecency and provoking boys – started a hashtag calling for all high school students to turn up to school on September 14 wearing something provocative. “It’s just so old-fashioned, these attitudes in France,” Dossena says. “These girls were really rioting. I’m so impressed by them.” Most definitely in the grown-up and otherworldly zone was the procession of all over pailletted, helmeted women who ended Dossena’s show – feminist guardian warriors, if you will. “If you look, some of the triangle paillettes are like knives, like a weapon. It’s quite a tough realness,” Dossena smiled. “We are definitely not about doing comfy bourgeois collections here.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Rework The Past. Paco Rabanne AW20

Paco Rabanne is the industry’s – and specifically, the buyers’ – current obsession in Paris. And one thing is for sure: Julien Dossena‘s collections aren’t intentionally commercial. But somehow, his ultra-light chain-mail dresses and accessories sell like hot buns. For some time now, Dossena has been exploring ways to extend the 1960s space-age limits that the house of Paco Rabanne is associated with. His own tastes have traveled, to much critical acclaim, toward a look that modernizes a glamour appropriated from the 1970s. But for autumn-winter 2020, there was something deeper and more subversive going on: a placing of the symbolism of spiritual-religious garb – allusions to clerical robes, monklike habits, and Joan of Arc armor – firmly within the female domain. “I don’t want to say that they’re a cult, exactly,” he said. “I’m not a believer at all, but I’m interested in how thinking about something that’s beyond still drives everyone, even in the age of technology.” The show was presented in an underground chamber of the Conciergerie (the place where Marie Antoinette once languished as a prisoner of the French Revolution, before she was hauled off to be guillotined), a perfect location for the mystical, magical procession of mysterious female priests. Hoods and ruffs, capes and slender maxi-coats, voluminous brocade dresses and fragile lace and flower embroideries – it all made so much sense. Dossena has the rare talent of reworking the symbolism and craft of the past in order to take them into the future.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Sweet, Sweet Times. Paco Rabanne SS20

Nostalgia has conquered fashion, and nothing can be done about that. But some designers make it really, really joyous. Paco Rabanne‘s Julien Dossena is a great example. Since his last spring-summer collection for the brand, something finally clicked and the designer finally seems to be feeling more confident with his vision for the brand. Chain-mail dresses aren’t the sole focus. He looks at the Paco Rabanne heritage from another angle. “He was utopian, not dystopian”, Dossen says of Rabanne. The 1960s and 1970s, when Rabanne was the bright new thing, were times of limitless optimism in France and for the enviably stylish and beautiful people who were part of a generational awakening. Julien took 1970s pop and psychedelia under the lense, creating something carefree and fun. “A dreamer and a realist…symbols of naiveté rather than nihilism.” A big red heart was placed in the center of the bodice of the first dress he sent out, and repeated in men’s chain mail top in the finale. “To me, it’s about a kind of strength. Being proud of being nice and kind. It’s something that I value now,” said Dossena. “I don’t know if that makes sense visually, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about.” The puffed-sleeve lamé blouses and the skirts, and the mod pants suits (based on templates pioneered by Françoise Hardy and Prince) were the collection’s major highlights, just as the juicy Guy Bourdin colour palette. A standout piece? The patchworked leather jackets with rising sun and cosmic planet motifs. It’s a delightful line-up, which instantly lands on my ‘season’s favourite’ list. Also, this collection will sell like hot buns, I think.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Overfilled. Paco Rabanne AW19

We’ve all gone crazy for Julien Dossena‘s spring-summer 2019 collection for Paco Rabanne. It just felt so effortless, so beautifully balanced. What happened this season? I guess the designer tried slightly too hard. His latest collection is extremely bourgeoisie, but to an extent where it’s really difficult to trace anything that’s Rabanne or, actually, Dossena. All those rhinestones, florals, zebra prints, bling bling… Julien often repeats that his Paco has to be as modern, as the original was back in the days of the founder. This collection wasn’t modern. It was (simply saying) overfilled with details. For spring, Dossena did the must-have ‘Lose Yourself’ t-shirt in tie-dye, which was styled with a sarong skirt. This time, though, the designer lost himself too much.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Grunge Baroque. Paco Rabanne Pre-Fall 2019

Julien Dossena‘s spring-summer 2019 collection for Paco Rabanne was one of the season’s biggest highlights – which was, to be honest, an absolute surprise. With the designer’s equally good pre-fall 2019 look-book, it’s visible that Rabanne is going up, up and up in the ranks. The collection continues the boheme eclecticism from summer, but feels even more confident. It’s a clash of baroque and grunge – think floral tapestry prints and plaid shirts. It’s like the designer invites both Queen Elizabeth and Courtney Love to the table. Equestrian tailoring goes with checked pants, while tank-tops are worn over chainmail dresses (distinctly Rabanne piece, looking as innovative in 2019 as in the 60s). When you take off the tiara and stay with the daywear, this is a very approachable, chic wardrobe. But then, should we part with the tiara?

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.