PARIS — Archives are one thing, but few dormant heritage brands readying for a revival have the luxury of guidance from their founding creator.
That’s the case for the house of Paco Rabanne, whose executives have been closely consulting with Rabanne for the relaunch of its fashion business, which closed in 2006.
At 76, Rabanne, whose wacky Space Age designs in unorthodox materials were among the most influential styles of the Sixties, today spends most of his days at his home in Brittany in northwest France.
Echoing the order in which Rabanne built his business, the brand’s renaissance kicked off last month with the relaunch of its famed 1969 chain-mail bag, in a range of new materials.
Rabanne started out in the Sixties making plastic jewelry linked by rings, before the 1966 launch of his first fashion collection, a line of “Twelve Unwearable Dresses” featuring daringly unpractical looks made from metal and plastic.
Vincent Thilloy, Rabanne’s vice president, said channeling the designer’s experimental, avant-garde vision will remain central to the development of the fashion business, from product to campaigns.
Symbolically, on the cusp of a new era for his namesake brand, Rabanne will today be made an officer of the Legion of Honor by France’s Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, paying homage — in the words of the minister — to his legacy as a “visionary designer, and precursor of innovative techniques for haute couture.”
The veteran designer was also recently honored by his home country, when the Spanish Culture Ministry awarded him the Fashion Design Award 2010.
Here, WWD catches up with Rabanne:
WWD: How much were you involved in the relaunch of your 1969 chain-mail bag? What was your input?
Paco Rabanne: I immediately got on board with the plan to relaunch the bag, but in my view it was necessary to make it in more comfortable materials. So we did this, using fine materials (shagreen, vegetable leather…) and/or materials in line with the Rabanne universe (rubber, plastic, aluminum…).
WWD: What kind of direction do you think the brand’s fashion line should take today?
P.R.: The Paco Rabanne brand is and must remain what it has always been: audacious.
WWD: When you started out, space and space travel influenced your work. If you were starting out today, what do you think you would be influenced by?
P.R.: As when I started in 1966, by my contemporary environment.
WWD: Your designs in their day were considered radical. Do think it’s possible for young designers to surprise today?
P.R.: Luckily they can! It is important to remain impertinent, radical. Creation must “shock.”
WWD: In 2009, you redecorated parts of the VIP Room Theater nightclub on Rue de Rivoli in Paris. Do you have any other projects planned?
P.R.: Yes indeed! For instance, I will shortly be designing a collection of lighting fixtures.
WWD: What do you think of Lady Gaga’s style?
P.R.: I love her style: total, radical, shocking! She has a touch of Rabanne, don’t you think?
WWD: Coco Chanel famously labelled you a “metalworker.” How did you regard established fashion designers such as Chanel when you started out?
P.R.: Before creating my own fashion house, I started out working for prestigious houses like Nina Ricci, Balenciaga or Givenchy. Of course, I’ve always shown respect for these great labels. But I still wanted to go for my own vision of fashion when I created my brand.
WWD: Your thing was all about using alternative, experimental materials. Which materials excite you today?
P.R.: I’m still basically attracted to contemporary materials, as often as not used in new and unexpected ways.
WWD: What do you think of the fast-fashion phenomenon?
P.R.: I am completely in agreement with the idea of bringing fashion to the high street to make it accessible to all.
WWD: Do you still design things?
P.R.: Of course! I paint, I sculpt, I draw.
WWD: How do you spend your days?
P.R.: In my life I’ve had the occasion to travel a lot. Now I just enjoy staying at home, in Brittany. I spend my time creating, designing…I really crave it!
WWD: Who do you think wore your creations best?
P.R.: To name just a few: Amanda Lear, Dali’s muse; Brigitte Bardot, who played an important part in the sociological revolution of women by allowing them to break free and assert themselves, or Jane Birkin and Françoise Hardy, whose beauty was amazing.
WWD: Could you share a couple of your favorite memories from your career?
P.R.: I’ve got far too many of them and you have a deadline. So I’ll just skip them all.