Paco Rabanne’s latest reboot is shaping up as a slow and steady build, not a flash in the pan.
Earlier this year, Julien Dossena, tapped in August 2013 as creative director for women’s wear, withdrew himself from the inaugural LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize competition, foregoing the chance to win 300,000 euros, or $409,000, and suspended his nascent brand Atto in order to concentrate fully on the Paco project.
“I thought that it was the best way to work, to develop the team and to be 150 percent on the collections,” said the 31-year-old Frenchman, a graduate of La Cambre in Brussels who cut his teeth in the Balenciaga studio, working closely with then-creative director Nicolas Ghesquière. “I didn’t want to be average on the two, but [rather] good on one.”
The Puig-owned house also poached a hidden management talent from Céline, Anouck Duranteau-Loeper, as fashion general manager to partner with Dossena on the business side and carve out a niche for a fashion name rooted in the Space Age Sixties and revived from five years of dormancy in 2011.
In their first joint interview, the duo described a step-by-step plan to ready the brand for the opening of a Paris boutique in 2015, marking a return to retail more than a decade after closing its historic location on the Rue du Cherche-Midi.
Job one was to pry Rabanne from its pigeon hole as a maker of special occasion fashions, a claim to fame dating back to the founder’s debut of “12 Unwearable Dresses,” many of them cobbled from metal and plastic.
From Dossena’s runway debut last September, he has accentuated daywear, parading tops, pants, flat shoes and jackets with a modernist sheen and an athletic undercurrent.
“When we arrived here, the business was based on evening dresses and exceptional items. Right away, I thought to myself that if we wanted Paco Rabanne to live on as a brand with a very modern and very young energy, we had to start by developing a classic day wardrobe,” he explained.
Building its assortments, the brand presented its first resort collection to buyers in Paris this month. “It was an important prerequisite to develop the business, especially with department stores, which need a regular turnover on their racks,” said Dossena.
The resort offering includes mix-and-match pieces designed to complement the more elaborate looks Dossena paraded in his first two shows. Consisting of around 60 items, the resort collection will retail for about a third less than the main line, with prices ranging from 270 euros, or $368 at current exchange, for a T-shirt featuring a vintage Seventies logo to about 2,500 euros, or $3,400, for aluminum mesh pieces like a wrap-over top or miniskirt.
Accessories comprise three shoe styles, including a flat sandal and Chelsea boots with a rectangular heel, and four handbags, of which three are new — a tote, bucket bag and mini clutch — all with the brand’s signature metal accents.
Duranteau-Loeper noted the brand would take its time with accessories, preferring to build a “significant ready-to-wear business” before branching out into other categories, with eyewear seen as a likely extension three or four years out.
About 40 specialty stores carry Dossena’s debut Rabanne collections, including Dover Street Market in London and New York, The Webster Miami, Jeffrey in New York, Joseph in London and Space Mue in South Korea.
Duranteau-Loeper said the next step is to layer on department stores, and expand the brand’s geographic reach, particularly into fast-growing Asia.
The methodical strategy seems a world away from Rabanne’s second-to-last designer, Manish Arora, whose brash, sci-fi designs were embraced with gusto by Lady Gaga, but failed to ignite a rtw business. Rosemary Rodriguez, an acolyte of the founder; American designer Patrick Robinson, and an internal candidate, Lydia Maurer, have also taken cracks at interpreting the brand over the last decade.
Even though Rabanne spent more than three decades as a couturier, he never created the designer rtw line bearing his name, which was launched in 1990 and designed by a variety of designers under his supervision, including former Balmain creative director Christophe Decarnin.
While Dossena was born two decades after Rabanne’s heyday, he said the fashion house casts a long shadow still, especially in France, where it is emblematic of the social upheavals of the Sixties that broke bourgeois fashion codes.
“Paris is really about superclassic couture,” said Dossena, “and then there are three names who bring those values of modernity: Courrèges, [Pierre] Cardin and Paco Rabanne. So it has a unique place in the landscape. It’s a supermodern brand, it can be innovative and at the same time young and effortless. It really fits this kind of space on the market.”
Dossena also lauded the founder as a designer who “was speaking to his generation,” innovating with fabrics and exalting an active life.
“It’s a luxury fashion house, really established and Parisian, but it has that legacy of daring and newness.…So that’s a playground that’s super inspiring and really unique,” he enthused.
A compact dynamo of a designer with a thick shock of boyish hair, Dossena said he’s not yet visited the archive, preferring to “pick what I find interesting and relevant for now” and project these elements in a conceptual way.
For example, he decided to work sparingly with metal mesh and instead incorporate subtle flashes of metallic, pointing to the silvery leather pieced into the cotton piqué top worn by Duranteau-Loeper.
Nowadays, Paco Rabanne is better known for fragrances including men’s scents Invictus and 1 Million, plus the Black XS range. Bridging the gulf between a massive fragrance franchise and a nascent fashion business is a challenge Dossena is ready to tackle.
“They totally trust us on the fashion identity,” he enthused, noting he and Duranteau-Loeper report to Rabanne executive Vincent Thilloy and Puig chief brand officer José Manuel Albesa. “So they really give us, as we say in French, carte blanche, to make the brand relevant in fashion. As I told them, the business of the perfume is gigantic, so we need time to grow and make [the fashion business] really relevant — and when we are going to be strong enough, we are going to link.”
Duranteau-Loeper said it would probably not be before 2018 or 2019 when the fashion and fragrance universes would begin collaborating.