“I have always had the impression of being a time accelerator. Of going as far as is reasonable for one’s time and not indulge in the morbid pleasure of the known things, which I view as decay. I talk of mutation, of the unquenchable thirst for novelty, and of permanent rupture. To be fixed in a concept is to become a living corpse.” Lydia Kamitsis, “Entretenien avec Paco Rabanne”, in Paco Rabanne [Exhibition Catalogue].
Paco Rabanne’s words reflect his iconoclastic approach to fashion, marking his work from the beginning to the end of his career. His commitment to questioning established ideas about dress, his experimentation with unconventional materials, and his architectural vision were at the heart of some of the most iconic designs of the 20th century.
Rabanne’s characteristic resilience and combative temperament were forged very early in his life. After fleeing the Spanish civil war, the young Paco moved to Paris in 1952, where he initiated his studies in Architecture. For over ten years he combined his studies with his accessory design for reputed houses such as Balenciaga, Courrèges, Pierre Cardin and Givenchy. Rabanne’s mother had worked for Cristóbal Balenciaga as a head seamstress in his San Sebastian atelier before the war forced them both to leave. However, it was Paco’s determination and use of materials that encouraged Balenciaga to incorporate Rabanne’s designs into his couture creations of the late 50s and early 60s. Years later Paco Rabanne would repeatedly acknowledge his admiration and creative debt to Balenciaga’s pure and architectural vision, considering himself “one of his disciples” and “a member of his school, a school of rigour and exactitude”.
On February 1st 1966, Paco Rabanne presented at the Hôtel George V his first Manifesto Collection, “12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials”, in which twelve barefoot models paraded clad in scandalous outfits, made entirely of rhodoïd sequins and plaques linked together with metallic rings. The choice of such an ignoble and inappropriate material as rhodoïd, was in line with the Dada and Panique movements, favoured by Rabanne in his early years. His penchant for the uncommon grew more radical in successive collections, especially from 1968 onwards, with his use of metal, the material of discomfort par excellence. His metallic dresses were viewed by many as being incompatible with the search for freedom of movement that characterized most designers of the time. Paco Rabanne explained himself.
Quidam de Revel is a Paris vintage fashion dealer, owned by Emmanuelle Chesnel and Philippe Harros, catering to haute couture fans, museums and vintage lovers since more than 20 years: they lent the iconic Paco Rabanne metal dress to MoMu for the Game Changers exhibition. They acquired the dress over seven years ago by a German owner who got it from his mom. It looks very much like the model worn by Donyale Luna photographed by Avedon in December 1966:
“Rabanne opened the window and showed what fashion could be in the future, he has shown audacity and a revolutionary spirit,” says Emmanuelle Chesnel.
Game Changers. Reinventing the 20th Century Silhouette until 14th August at MoMu Antwerp