Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born French designer best known for his metallic ensembles and space-age designs of the 1960s, has died at the age of 88.
His death in Portsall, Brittany, was confirmed by a spokesperson for Spanish group Puig, which controls the Paco Rabanne label he exited two decades ago.
“The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honour our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88,” the statement from beauty and fashion company Puig said.
“Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain.”
“A major personality in fashion, his was a daring, revolutionary and provocative vision, conveyed through a unique aesthetic,” said Marc Puig, chairman and CEO of Puig.
Le Telegramme newspaper quoted the mayor of Vannes, David Robo, as saying that Rabanne died at his home in the Brittany region town of Portsall.
‘Unwearable dresses’ made of metal and plastic
Born Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo in 1934, the future designer fled the Spanish Basque country at age five during the Spanish Civil War and took the name of Paco Rabanne.
Rabanne grew up in France and studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.
He started his career sketching high-end handbags and shoes, before branching into fashion, designing garments and jewellery with unconventional materials such as metal and plastic.
Rabanne was famous for his use of chainmail, the metal mesh garment associated with Medieval knights.
His first collection, which he described as “unwearable dresses made of contemporary materials” were pieces made of strips of plastic linked with metal rings, worn by barefoot models at a presentation in an upscale Paris hotel.
Rabanne dressed some of the most prominent stars of the 1960s, including French singer Francoise Hardy, whose outfits from the designer included a mini dress made from gold plates and a metal link jumpsuit, as well as Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, who were pictured in matching silver outfits.
Among his most famous looks were the fitted, skin-baring ensembles worn by Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s cult science fiction film Barbarella.
‘The metallurgist of fashion’
The designer teamed up with Spain’s Puig family in the late 1960s, launching perfumes that served as a springboard for the company’s international expansion.
Surrealist Salvador Dali famously approved of his compatriot, calling him “Spain’s second genius”, while fellow designer Coco Chanel reportedly called Rabanne “the metallurgist of fashion.”
“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women [to] clamour for dresses made of plastic and metal,” said Jose Manuel Albesa, president of Puig’s beauty and fashion division.
“My colleagues tell me I am not a couturier but an artisan, and it’s true that I’m an artisan. … I work with my hands,” Rabanne said in interview in the 1970s.
In an interview when he was 43 years old, Rabanne explained his radical fashion philosophy.
“I think fashion is prophetic. Fashion announces the future,” he said, adding that women were harbingers of what lies on the horizon.
“When hair balloons, regimes fall,” Rabanne said. “When hair is smooth, all is well.”
While his innovation and futuristic designs won plaudits, his fascination with the supernatural prompted public derision at times.
He was known for recounting past reincarnations, and in 1999, he predicted the space station Mir would crash into France, coinciding with a solar eclipse.