Visionary fashion and fragrance designer Paco Rabanne dies at age 88

The House of Paco Rabanne announced last night that its founder, celebrated perfumer and fashion designer Paco Rabanne has passed away

Fashion designer Paco Rabanne on October 12, 1995. Photo: John Aquino/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images

“Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain a constant source of inspiration,” the announcement of Puig read, which is the parent company of Rabanne’s brands, following the news of Rabanne’s passing.

“I am profoundly saddened by the death of Paco Rabanne,” the group’s chief executive, Marc Puig, said. “Through his great personality, he transmitted a unique aesthetic and a daring, revolutionary and provocative vision of the world of fashion.”

Rabanne, born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo, shot to fame for his space-age metal dresses and added to his legacy a range of bestselling fragrances.

Born in February 1934 in Spain’s Basque town of Pasaia to a military family, the designer’s father was a colonel in the Republican military – executed by Francoist nationalist troops in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War – while his mother worked as a couture seamstress for the designer Cristobal Balenciaga. The family moved to Paris in 1939 after the Nationalist forces won the war.

Though Rabanne became one of the most prominent fashion designers in the 20th century, he didn’t start his career in fashion. In the mid-1950s, he studied architecture at l’École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During this time, Rabanne earned money by making fashion sketches for Dior and Givenchy, but he would eventually join Auguste Perret, France’s leading developer of reinforced concrete, and stay there for a decade.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Rabanne began making clothes and accessories. His curiosity in working with interesting materials to create clothes displayed much of his desire for engineering as well as designing. He started by conceiving a small collection of large plastic accessories and buttons, which were sold to various couture houses.

Rabanne didn’t see himself as a fashion designer in the truest sense of the term. Even after his first fashion presentation in 1964 titled “Twelve Experimental Dresses”, he didn’t gain renown in the fashion sphere until two years later in 1966 when he showcased his first couture collection, “Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials”.

The collection comprised mini dresses made from plastic strips and discs which were held together with large metal rings that were presented to the audience. After the show, Rabanne declared to the French press who perceived his then bold statement in astonishment, “Who cares if no one can wear my dresses. They are statements.”

His eponymous fashion house, Paco Rabanne, thus came into being to international acclaim.

Rabanne’s visionary approach was pervasive in his work. He was one of the first designers to introduce soundtracks to shows and alongside Yves Saint Laurent, he was one of the first designers to cast non-white catwalk models in the 1960s. In 1968, he teamed up with Catalonia-based fashion and fragrance house Puig to develop perfumes for which he would become a giant in the industry.

Before his retirement from fashion in 1999, Rabanne was known for his provocative outbursts throughout his career. Such as claiming to have had multiple lives, being some 78,000 years old, having seen God and being visited by aliens. This led to the nickname “Wacko Paco”.

In his 1999 book “Fire From Heaven”, he claimed that Paris would be destroyed later the same year by the crashing of the Russian space station Mir down to Earth. This was allegedly foreseen by him after reading works by the 16th-century French astrologer Nostradamus.

As much as his star burned during his years before retirement – in which his career drew the attention of and having dressed the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow, Peggy Guggenheim and Jane Birkin – he withdrew almost entirely from the public eye for the next 24 years.

Regardless of his eccentricities, Rabanne will forever be known as the visionary 20th-century creator whose life inspired generations of fashion designers who come after him. Puig added, “We are grateful to Monsieur Rabanne for establishing our avant-garde heritage and defining a future of limitless possibilities.”

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