NEW YORK — Patrick Robinson made a case for “Pretty Baby” fashion during his three seasons at Perry Ellis, but at Paco Rabanne — where he officially begins work as creative director today — he plans to design a collection with a harder edge.
Robinson’s appointment at the Puig-owned house was confirmed on Tuesday by Mario Grauso, president of the fashion division of the company, which, in addition to the Paco Rabanne label owns Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci. Rosemary Rodriguez, who joined the Rabanne ready-to-wear division in 2000 from Thierry Mugler, left the house within the past two weeks, Grauso said, citing “a difference of opinions about the future of the company.”
The 38-year-old Robinson, whose departure from Perry Ellis International last month resulted from a prolonged struggle with company management over the positioning of the label, said he has signed a multiyear contract with Puig. He is expected to spend about half of his time in Paris, where Paco Rabanne is based and where he plans to present his first efforts for the house with a fall 2005 runway show in March.
In a joint interview with Robinson and Grauso at Puig’s new offices for its fashion brands, 601 West 26th Street here, Robinson said he was attracted to the company by Grauso’s management approach and the expectation that he would have more design autonomy than he did at Perry Ellis. Grauso, not missing a beat, said, “He calls the creative shots.”
“I felt I could come here and be a creative director and be successful,” said Robinson, who prior to Perry Ellis had designed for Giorgio Armani and Anne Klein and had his own collections in the Nineties.
He said he was still intrigued by the possibility of designing for another house because “it’s my personality. I found that when I had my own company, what was missing was great management. You can’t be successful just by yourself. You become successful by having great management partners.”
But word over the past two weeks that Robinson was likely headed to Paco Rabanne has raised a lot of questions among the younger designer’s enthusiasts, who wondered what would be the connection between the frilly, playful clothes that charmed editors at Perry Ellis and a French label best known for its fragrance and Rabanne’s embrace of metallurgy. Rodriguez, who was personally hired by Rabanne and frequently consulted him on design, based her recent collections on his greatest hits, the minidresses made of chain-link metal and a spring ode to gold. Robinson, on the other hand, replied sharply when asked if he would consult with Rabanne, insisting he plans to take the house in a new direction — somewhere vastly different from either of their recent works.
“I have very strong points of view and I have ideas of how I want to take the brand forward,” Robinson said. “I won’t be asking for his stamp of approval or for his advice. I feel I am the creative director and I need to move the house in the direction where I see it going.”
Rabanne, who is 70, officially stepped back from his consulting role at the company in October, letting Rodriguez take a solo bow at the spring presentation while he sat in the audience. Neither he nor Rodriguez could be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Robinson doesn’t plan to be literal or loyal to Rabanne in his approach, but rather is looking to squeeze the essence out of the elder designer’s tradition, and leave it at that. He was even taken by surprise, recently, when someone pointed out he and Rabanne share the same initials.
“For me, Paco Rabanne conjures up a few words — sleek and sexy with a bit of an arrogant glamour,” Robinson said. “Its glamour isn’t a soft glamour. It’s a stronger glamour. There’s a lot more sex appeal, and it’s a bit more arrogant and up-front about it. It also looks forward, with a flamboyant futuristic attitude. It’s actually very close to what’s inside of me, to my point of view of a different woman, the kind of woman that I’m attracted to.”
There is a lot to admire in Rabanne’s hallmarks — his enthusiasm for technological advancements in fabric, building sculptural dresses of linked plastic discs and strips of aluminum. But Robinson’s fear is that what seemed futuristic in the Sixties and Seventies could appear dated today.
“The metal isn’t as important for Paco Rabanne as the idea of what it brought to the house in the Sixties, which is the idea of youth and sex and futuristic and moving forward,” Robinson said. “Those ideas have to move forward in fabric and texture. There’s a lot more to the house than metal and it’s time to make it relevant for today.”
Grauso added that Puig has bigger ambitions for building the Paco Rabanne fashion business, which in recent years has improved the quality of its distribution points but has not grown substantially in volume. In the U.S., the line is carried at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Jeffrey New York, Bergdorf Goodman and other major specialty stores. It also has a large roster of international accounts.
The company plans to hold off on any major fragrance launches or an advertising campaign for the first season, and expects to close its freestanding store on Rue des Saints Pères in Paris within the next few months. Grauso, who expanded his role in the Puig organization in October from president of Carolina Herrera to the entire fashion division, said the look of the space doesn’t match the vision that Robinson has discussed for the brand.