The Road to Rabanne

What defines a fashion designer’s dream job these days? Is it the fame, fortune and influence of a top gig at a mega luxury house? What about taking on a sleepy brand, doing what you want with it, then making everyone pay attention?

Julien Dossena

When Julien Dossena was made creative director of Paco Rabanne almost 11 years ago, the stakes were low. The iconoclastic designer, Paco, who died in February of last year at 88, came to the scene in 1966 with the collection “Manifesto: 12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials” that featured garments in Rhodoid plastic strips held together by metal rings. It shocked Paris then but by the time he walked away from fashion in 1999, the label was a stale time capsule belonging to a long-ago era when he, Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges were a Space Age holy trinity.

Paco Rabanne doing fittings prior to his first show

30-year-old Dossena was then an interesting hire, who had worked under Nicolas Ghesquière’s wings at Balenciaga. With a fervour to make it work long-term, Dossena is a case study in the virtues of the long game in fashion, where quickie contracts have become the norm. During his term, he has been the brains behind the major rebrand strategy unifying the ready-to-wear and beauty businesses under one label—Rabanne. On the strength of collections (and fragrances) that attract the industry’s inner sanctum and loyal customers, Dossena has pulled off success without ever earning the most dreaded of fashion dismissals: commercial.

It took some time for Dossena to build up statement pieces that resonate with the brand today while also adding his personal touch. By 2018, Dossena had successfully established a new aesthetic, complete with reinterpretations of the hit handbag, the 1969.

Paco Rabanne Fall Winter 2018

This formula left Dossena a bit bored overtime. Turning to French philosopher, Roland Barthes, when in doubt. The quote “I don’t feel the need to be a modernist anymore.” deeply resonated with Dossena - giving him the confidence to break from the mould that he had built for himself. For Spring 2019, he showcased a curveball of intensely layered references—Indian woodblock prints, hibiscus florals, Chantilly lace chainmail and gold medallion embroidery. The collection’s eclecticism connected to the namesake designer on a level beyond the usual stereotypes.

Paco Rabanne Spring Summer 2019

To outsiders, Rabanne doesn’t bear the institutional weight of names like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior or Coco Chanel but his creative contributions are part of the fashion expert canon. The impact of Paco’s fearless embrace of avant-garde materials can be traced to collections by Thierry Mugler, Donatella Versace, Miuccia Prada and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Rabanne Spring Summer 2024

Today, Julien Dossena has successfully made Rabanne’s heritage aesthetic his own. What is his secret to making it long-term you ask? “Start having fun at work”, he says.

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