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Rabanne, Paco (Francisco Rabaneda-Cuervo)

rabanne’s plastic metal award

B. February 18, 1934

Birthplace: San Sebastián, Spain

Awards: Beauty Products Industry Award, 1969
         Fragrance Foundation Recognition Award, 1974
         L’Aiguille d’Or Award, 1977
         Dé d’Or Award (Golden Thimble), 1990
         Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, 1989
         Officier del Ordre d’Isabelle la Catholique, 1989

Paco Rabanne’s education in architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1952 to 1955 prepared him to become one of the most inventive designers of modern times. He combined space-age futurism with architectural fashion to create clothes that were indicative of the 1960s. Instead of working with fabric, he looked to new technologies and materials to create clothing that seemed ahead of its time.

Rabanne started his career as an accessories designer for Cristóba Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, and Christian Dior. He introduced his first collection, aptly titled “Twelve Unwearable Dresses,” in 1964 and opened his own house in 1966. Like André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin, Rabanne was inspired by the space race and futuristic technology which permeated world culture during the late 1950s and 1960s.

Rabanne translated this inspiration into variations of chain-mail clothing. Some of these chain-mail designs were made of metal mesh; others were crafted from less predictable items. By linking together materials such as plastic, metal discs, and aluminum Ping-Pong balls, he created wild and sometimes barely wearable dresses. In one notable 1967 example, he linked bits of fur with metal rings. His experiments with chain mail led to his use of other nonfabric materials including fiber optic wire, paper, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, and Scotch tape. In 1971 he designed a raincoat molded from a single piece of plastic. Even the buttons were incorporated into the design.

Rabanne’s couture designs earned him a reputation of innovation, but these radical designs failed to make money. Ready-to-wear and licensing agreements financially supported Rabanne’s artistically extravagant yet impractical couture lines until his last showing in 1999. As the sustenance of the business, licensing agreements numbered 140 by the 1990s. Agreements were signed for products such as bags, belts, home furnishings, leather goods, men’s ready-to-wear, scarves, sunglasses, and umbrellas.

The most successful licensing area was fragrance. Since Calandre debuted in the late 1960s, the scents became a financially and popularly successful portion of Rabanne’s business. Other fragrances include Paco Rabanne pour Homme (1973), Metal (1979), La Nuit (1985), Sport (1985), Tenere (1988), and XS. The latest fragrance, Paco, was introduced in 1996. This unisex scent coordinated with Rabanne’s new brand, Paco, which featured eccentric simplicity and included apparel and accessories sold in Paco boutiques.

Rabanne, who was once considered ahead of the times, enjoyed a renewed popularity of the 1960s during the 1990s. By that time his company was owned by the Puig Group, a Spanish fashion and cosmetics company which also owned Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci. Over a span of thirty years, Rabanne helped introduce new technologies into clothing manufacture and push fashion forward, forcing designers and consumers to reexamine the concept of couture.

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