“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.