On A Mission. Paco Rabanne SS23

A catwalk built of scaffolding, fenced with metal bars, plenty of grunge notions and kinky latex. Paco Rabanne‘s spring-summer 2023 collection had a surprising twist, as Julien Dossena, the brand’s creative director, departed from his signature romantic-slash-futurist aesthetic. This season, Dossena does not intend to pretend that fashion is detached from what is happening in the world. That’s also why he called this collection “On a Mission.” Latex and PVC, topped with leather straps and chains, looked spicy and highly fetishistic. All the skills of the house went into fabricating a collection which called on the traditional playbook of subversion: grunge slips, punk kilts, fetish rubber, and wipe-clean raincoats, intersected with the house signature silver chain mail. There were also lace, shiny metallic fabrics, experiments with texture and see-through materials that emphasized the power of femininity. The whole “angry Paco” look was crowned with badass, massive combat boots, which were the perfect additions to the tulle ball skirts (very Olivia Rodrigo). Dossena makes no secret of the fact that what’s happening in the world is having a huge impact on him and his work – the war in Ukraine, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. “It’s about this feeling that there’s going to be a fight, and it’s going to be a long one. So, it’s about expressing that passion and giving clothes for the moment to prepare to fight, because that’s what it’s about: no apologies.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.


Vivacious. Paco Rabanne AW22

Although Paco Rabanne‘s autumn-winter 2022 isn’t officially couture, it was a suitable start of the Parisian week of haute fashion. Julien Dossena continues to expand his vocabulary for the brand, temporarily leaving behind Rabanne’s heritage chain-mail and digging into personal obsessions. Designers have been doing collections about our hankering for the human touch since Covid set in, but this collection went beyond that. “I wanted it to be conceptual in a sensorial way and not in an intellectual way,” the designer said, stripping his proverbial mood board of any reference that wasn’t about texture or volume. In a (sort of) post-pandemic world where escapism is at an all-time high, focusing so exclusively on here-and-now things like design and fabrication was practically confrontational to the human mind. “The abstract volumes came from the couture register,” Dossena said, referring to the sculptural form language associated with classic haute couture. “But super short, a bit extreme, with really cinched waists, and mixing it with knitwear to make it more, let’s say, contemporary.” On paper, that procedure sounded pretty 1980s, and many of the looks could have been hyper-takes on the decade’s vivacious silhouette. Think Nan Kempner’s style whenever she arrived to Paris. This collection also felt very Balenciaga-by-Nicolas-Ghesquiere, especially autumn-winter 2012 – Dossena was working as the in-house designer back then. The vibrant Paco Rabanne collection is an astute reminder of what we can do with the makings of the material world in a time when the human mind seems hellbent on escaping into immaterial ones.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Heat Wave. Paco Rabanne SS22

We just wanted this super-genuine feeling of wanting the sun on your skin. Of being by the sea, and feeling the warmth and the happiness of it,Julien Dossena said of his spring-summer 2022 collection for Paco Rabanne. “Because all of those pleasures are what we’ve all been craving for so long. So I thought, let’s just go with it, and have fun with it.” Last week, he and the Paco Rabanne team were vividly capturing all those sybaritic sun-worshipping impulses atop the spectacularly-tiled hexagonal geometric Op Art Hexa Grace installation in Monaco. It made for a brilliantly-chosen platform for showcasing all of the glinting, sinuous glamour of the French jet-set “bohemian ’70s vibe” that he’s re-channeling for 21st century would-be hedonists of the post-pandemic world. Under the baking heat of the Mediterranean sun, out strode a collection Dossena aptly described as “compositions” or “assemblages” that were melded into silhouettes of dresses and skirts over flared trousers, all-over wallpaper and pansy prints, sarongs and scarf belts, and all kinds of inventive ways of reinventing the chainmail and metallic paillettes and sequins that made up Paco Rabanne’s identity in the first place. Amongst all of it was a print collaboration with the Victor Vasarely Foundation, the holder of the legacy of the artist who designed the Monte Carlo public art installation in 1979. “It felt culturally linked to Paco Rabanne” to do that, the designer remarked. Yet cleverly, Dossena’s knack for design takes clothes somewhere that’s never retro. In orchestrating his collections, he does things like wraps chains into necklines and around hips, adds asymmetric lashings of fringe, and knots and drapes crop-tops to reveal skin in ways that never happened in the 1970s. When he comes to quoting Vasarely’s Op Art, his print placement of the original’s circles and 3D illusion grids are set to flatter the body, mathematically graduated to narrow into waists. Besides, bucket hats were never the thing in the ’70s; they are now, but worked by Dossena into his ‘total print’ top-to-toe looks they’ve picked up a fresh sense of sophistication. Season on season, his instincts are steadily taking Paco Rabanne the brand to the place in the sun it rightfully deserves in the constellation of contemporary fashion.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Genuine Pleasure. Paco Rabanne AW21

Julien Dossena exits the chainmail comfort zone and re-defines Paco Rabanne in a charming, joyous way for autumn-winter 2021. “The good thing about fashion,” Dossena said, “is that we’re proposing clothes for the next six months. So we hope that in six months’ time, it’s going to be a big party; everyone will be getting out for days and days, nights and nights….”What came out spontaneously was part very Parisian – imagery linked to the hedonistic ’70s and ’80s French Vogue photography of Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton – and part Princess Diana in her Shy Di phase. “Yes, I’ve been watching ‘The Crown‘” says Dossena with a laugh. “And binge-watching the French movies of Chabrol and Buñuel, with all those ladies interacting and having fun with one another.” The maximalist exuberance brought out big white collars on velvet dresses and a Shetland sweater, pie-frill broderie anglaise lace necklines, English-lady tweed coats, and crystal jewelry festooned in abundance across signature Paco Rabanne chainmail. “Really,” the designer concluded, “it’s just about girls enjoying themselves, releasing that vibration of genuine pleasure.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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.