Having been at the helm of Paco Rabanne for five years now, Julien Dossena is suitably in the swing of things at the Parisian fashion house, which was founded in the latter half of the 1960s. The 37-year-old creative director has drawn elements of what the brand is most famous for – dresses made from ‘les pacotilles’ (tiles of plastic, metal and other materials, joined together using metal hoops) favoured by the likes of Françoise Hardy – and made them his own by quite literally collaging with a multitude of disparate references. “I wanted to explore things that I hadn’t explored before,” he explains. “I thought, I’m going to experiment. This summer has been pretty interesting for me; it was spent having fun enjoying my work.”
Ahead of the show, Dossena takes Vogue on a trip through the psychedelic prints, naive landscapes and style-defining decades that came together for the Paco Rabanne spring/summer 2020 collection.
How do you want people to feel when they see your spring/summer 2020 collection?
“This season I wanted the mood of the collection to be optimistic, dreamy, a little psychedelic even, with a feeling of escape. I worked with really bold primary colours, and motifs likes sunsets and red hearts.”
There’s a riot of prints in the collection, how did they all come together?
“For some years now, I’ve worked with a print designer who I studied with at La Cambre in Brussels. Print and fabric is always my starting point and it’s a huge part of my design process. I’ve taken a lot of references this season and mixed them up like a collage. I’ve really had fun with that – it goes beyond the prints.”
“There is a Western influence with the jeans and button-down shirts, but it’s given a touch of Pop with embroideries of birds and hearts. Then there’s a 1970s bohemian aesthetic, with medieval sleeves and capes – you can imagine Joni Mitchell in some of these looks; as well as some 1990s gothic dresses printed with roses, bringing romance back into the story. For another contrast, we have a very simple look: a knitted rainbow sweater and beige trousers that were inspired by a photo I saw of David Bowie.”
“All of this feeds into the accessories too, there are a pair of men’s boots with a naive landscape appliqued onto them in coloured leather, and shoes with rainbows and heart motifs.”
How have you reinterpreted the design features, such as chainmail and metalwork, that are synonymous with Paco Rabanne?
“When I arrived at Paco Rabanne, I really wanted to work with the core values of the brand. For me, it stands for radical and conceptual design; and at the same time it’s about body consciousness and sexuality. The house is pretty unique in the landscape of fashion and, because Paco was creating many of his own materials, there are endless possibilities. You can create something out of metal, of course, but also wood, sequins, leather… anything.”
“This season, I wanted to create some flower prints in a really post-modern way, so we played with the scale to create the effect of collage. On one of the looks, for example, I’ve appliqued velvet daisies onto a viscose base. Then I’ve replicated that print onto the chainmail that Paco Rabanne is famous for, I think that’s new; it’s not something I’ve seen in the archives. So it’s about creating these elements of unexpected contrast and harmony between materials.”
Do you have a particular person in mind when you design?
“When you think about when Paco Rabanne established his brand [in 1966], and you put it in context – surrounded by Parisian couture houses; where the models would walk up and down in a show with one hand in their pocket and a number in the other – he really changed all that. He thought: I’m going to put a woman of colour on the runway; play Pierre Boulez at my fashion show and stage it in a modern industrial set; send sculptural metallic dresses down the runway, because that’s what a utopia looks like.”
“Françoise Hardy and the likes of Jane Birkin, of course, were a huge inspiration for Paco Rabanne. A woman singing on French TV in the 1960s and 1970s, with a modernist set, with different coloured lights flashing; that’s the kind of character I play into.”
You’ve introduced menswear into the collection for the first time, what’s the relationship between the Paco Rabanne man and woman?
“I collaborated with the graphic designer Peter Saville on some of the T-shirt prints again this season – we’ve been working together for over three years now. The designs act as an introduction to Paco Rabanne menswear. One, worn by a woman in the show, is based on a gay zine from the 1970s. It has an image of the back of a marble bust of a man, and the zine typeface male tales scrawled over the top. Another T-shirt has colours fading in and out, Peter felt it was a really dreamy collection, so he made an ironic statement by printing the word realists over the top. Then there’s a red T-shirt called Unresolved, with the idea to blur the boundaries between genders.”
“I didn’t want the menswear to hold back in any way. Some of the print designs and fabrications are present in both the men’s and women’s clothes. For example: the print on a men’s shirt – large, multicoloured polka dots that fade out around the edges, like markings on the carpet of a 1970s nightclub – is used on a men’s chainmail shirt and a woman’s skirt. There are embroideries, trousers made out of metallic leather – the mens and womenswear should be almost interchangeable and equally radical.”