Julien Dossena Leads Paco Rabanne into the Future

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Like many who find themselves in fashion, designer Julien Dossena’s interest came from outside of it.

Born near the rugged coastline in Brittany, France there was not much for Dossena to do as a young child but sketch the waters around him and escape through the written word. “Books were my friends,” he tells CR. (To this day, he still dedicates the last hour or two before bed to reading alone.)

Eventually Dossena found himself in Paris, where he took art history classes at the École Superieure des Arts Appliqués Duperré. Searching for a means to reconcile the concepts he loved to philosophize with his need to work with his hands, he went to Brussels, where the inspiration of of Martin Margiela and Dries Van Noten brought him to studying fashion at La Cambre de Bruxelles. Far from the industrious nature of Paris’ fashion tornados, Dossena says he was able to realize his own voice in design. “When you’re in Paris all you do is work your studio,” he explains. “Brussels was a bubble where you could build yourself.” In 2006, he was awarded the special jury prize at the Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, France (a competition that he would later preside over a decade later as chairman), while still in school. Upon graduation one year later he had one goal in mind: to work at Balenciaga. “It was the only place for me to go,” remembers Dossena.

At that time, the fashion brand had seen tremendous reinvention under creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, whose knack for voluminous proportion and extreme cut made Balenciaga a name on the red carpet and in international households during his 15-year tenure. Reportedly, fashion group Kering (then known as PPR) only acquired the brand in 2001 to safely secure the lead designer. Dossena started at Balenciaga in 2008 as an intern, and worked under Ghesquière, eventually becoming both his boyfriend and senior designer for the label. If Brussels was creative isolation then Balenciaga was full immersion, and Dossena credits everything he’s learned—from collection creation to runway staging and commercial marketing—to Ghesquière and the fashion brand. When Ghesquière exited Balenciaga in 2012, the rest of the design team followed. Dossena remembers the aftermath as a confusing but also exciting time. While getting his debut line Atto, which was shortlisted for the 2014 LVMH Prize, off the ground, an unexpected opportunity came from longtime Ghesquière collaborator Marie Amelie Sauve—Paco Rabanne.

Established in 1966 by the designer, whose real name is in fact Francisco Rabaneda-Cuervo, the fashion brand introduced radical fashion during a time when the world was still learning about itself and the universe around it, infusing elements from Hollywood and science fiction with romantic hits of Parisian glam that attracted everyone from starlets to underground acts. Radiant and forward-thinking, Paco Rabanne’s otherworldly creations propelled singer Françoise Hardy into the limelight while its chain mail minis became a second skin for Jane Fonda in Barbarella. Infamously, the designer used the runway to prophesize about the galaxies above. When the Rabaneda-Cuervo stepped away from it—and fashion as a whole—in 2006, Paco Rabanne the company had nearly fallen off the fashion map. Though three designers succeeded its founder, none lasted more than a year each. And by the time it reached Dossena, the novelty that the name once wielded was faint.

“I got the call and my immediate response was yes,” remembers Dossena, who was named creative director of Paco Rabanne in 2013. “I thought, ‘Here is my chance to rebuild history.’” From the terrace of his design studio on Rue François, right off Paris‘ Avenue Montaigne, today the whole city is in full sight. White and glossy, its interiors are understated and millennially compact. Modernity is the most important says the designer, and you can feel it between these walls.

In the ‘60s, Rabaneda-Cuervo found fame and studied space in Paco Rabanne by incorporating futuristic materials never before dreamt of being used in fashion. One early collection was famously made entirely out of paper and colored adhesive tape. While, in the years after, the designer experimented with metal rectangles and disks and soon introduced his signature objets d’ toolshed: translucent plastic, shiny aluminum, and cold chains. Often Paco Rabanne’s pieces had to be shaped directly on the body, which prompted Coco Chanel to deem the designer a “metal worker” rather than a couturier.

For Dossena’s Paco Robanne, modernity today is less about the physical and more the spirit. Of course, there are still slinky chain mail and paillette details technically, but the energy has been re-enlivened yet brought back down to earth (Rabaneda-Cuervo famously claimed to be an alien from planet Altair) and made fresh for girls today: the Emrata’s of the world who want to sparkle just as much as they want to show a little leg. It doesn’t hurt that Ratajkowski herself is an ambassador for the perfume leg of the brand. Most emblematic of this futuristic synergy is Dossena’s Fall/Winter 2018 collection, where ornate metal 3-D flowers cover mesh miniskirts and space age slits are layered below denim neutrals. The assortment, like much of Dossena’s work today, explains the designer, “are about giving back the strength of Paco Rabanne’s work but also exerting my voice.”

Dossena agrees that there must be a parallel between his work on the runway and the works he reads every night before bed, even if it’s not explicit. Like Rabaneda-Cuervo’s own tales of space travel, even if not completely understood, they’re still a part of Paco Rabbanne‘ history. When they should—if ever—be re-told is up to the designer to decide.

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