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The Tomorrow Man: Looking Back at Paco Rabanne’s Irreverent Past, and Looking Forward to Its Feel-Good Future

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From “12 unwearable dresses” to “perfumery 2.0.”

When Paco Rabanne launched his Manifesto collection in 1966 and his “12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials,” he effectively founded his fashion house in futuristic irreverence.

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Making use of such things as hammered metal, dayglo leather, and chainmail, Rabanne’s designs contrasted starkly with the tailored couture of the time. Coco Chanel, with the air of establishment tut-tutting at the new and different, would even refer to the young Spaniard as a “metal worker” instead of a designer.

“By pushing experiences to the limit, we can change mind sets,” Rabanne said in 1967. And the enfant terrible of 60s fashion continued to do so as his house grew.

Building a name

Born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo in 1934 in the Basque town of Pasajes, Rabanne’s mother was head seamstress for Cristobal Balenciaga’s first couture house in Donostia.

In the process of earning an architecture degree from l’École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, he would make money by drawing sketches for Givenchy, Dior, and Charles Jourdan.

He would later on design jewelry for Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Dion, serving as his way into high fashion. After his successful 1966 show, he would soon dress some of the most high-profile stylish women of the day, including Jane Birkin and Jane Fonda. (The latter would also wear a Paco Rabanne design for her cult favorite film Barbarella.)

While some of his more eccentric thoughts would later surface—such as his belief that he was Jesus in a past life and that his claim that he was visited by aliens—his house’s forward thinking reputation didn’t diminish over the decades.

Revolution, rebellion, renaissance

Julien Dossena joined the Rabanne fashion house in 2014, infusing a youthful energy into the brand. As Business of Fashion puts it, he “has revived the storied futuristic label, bringing a fresh aesthetic that has resonated with consumers and international retailers alike.”

“When I think of Paco Rabanne, I don’t think retro—I think revolution, rebellion, and renaissance,” Dossena says.

And while atypical clothing was the brand’s start, this innovation-seeking attitude also extended to perfumes.

In 1969, it launched Calandre, its first scent for women, which featured a futuristic metallic rose. Paco Rabanne Pour Homme followed four years later, pioneering fougère, which would become a category defining fragrance family.

Two years ago, the six-scent Pacollection became popular for its gender-fluidity and for being the first fragrance launched under Dossena’s direction.

Augmented creativity

This year, the fashion house is introducing its initialy offering in what it describes as “perfumery 2.0,” a scent that is anchored on connectivity: Phantom.

The label brought together four expert noses from the International Flavors and Fragrances for this scene—Loc Dong, Juliette Karagueuzoglou, Dominique Ropion, and Anne Flipo—who made use of IFF’s augmented creativity process and neuroscience.

Their goal was to create a fragrance that would instantly make the wearer feel good. The foursome made use of a styrallyl acetate, which it says activate a sense of altertness. They paired it with natural elements such as Italian lemon peel oil, a smoky patchouli heart, and a woody vetiver heart.

The Phantom is encased in what Paco Rabanne says is the first connected bottle.

A contactless communication NFC chip is inside the spray caps of the silver robot-shaped bottles. By just tapping the head with your smartphone, you are transported into a world created by award-winning director Antoin Bardou Jacquet.

Inside that virtual universe, you follow the hero (played by David Trulik) who is on his way to an encounter with his off-planet love (plaued bu Kris Grikaite). The Phantom robot acts as both guide and wingman to any intergalactic party–parties where Rabanne’s “12 unwearable dresses” would absolutely steal the show.

Paco Rabanne Phantom is available in Rustans.com.

Banner Photo from @pacorabanne on IG

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