The Designer Updating Space-Age Cool for Today

The New York Times 2 months ago

Growing up in a small fishing village in France near the coast of Brittany, Julien Dossena, the 37-year-old creative director of Paco Rabanne, spent hours sketching speedboats, whales, medieval knights and sultry female superheroes. In his late teens, he turned his focus to fashion: “My dad owned a nightclub, and hanging out there, I became obsessed with evening wear — it felt very ‘Boogie Nights,’” he says. “Then I got into skateboarding culture, ’90s streetwear and grunge through magazines like The Face and i-D.” He also discovered the work of Belgian designers, including Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, whom he found to be “a refreshing antithesis to the uptight and terrifying world of Paris fashion,” and enrolled at La Cambre National Visual Arts School in Brussels. Afterward, in 2008, he landed an internship at Balenciaga, where he eventually became a senior designer. He left the brand in 2012 and started his own line, Atto, and then took a freelance gig at Paco Rabanne, the Paris label that had struggled to find its footing following the retirement of its Basque founder in 1999. Within months, Dossena was running the show.

As he saw it, his mission at the house, which was established in 1966 and is best known for the space-age metallic bodysuits, sequined skirts and chain-mail minidresses once favored by Jane Birkin and Françoise Hardy, was to think beyond shimmery staples and give women a fully realized wardrobe. At Dossena’s first runway show, for the spring 2014 collection, models wore mock-neck patent-leather dresses and body-conscious cotton overalls, and although there were touches of chain mail and metallics, these were overlaid with mesh or paired with a tailored overcoat or sporty dress. He’s since shown everything from bias-cut, rhinestone-studded kimonos to Victorian prairie dresses done in floral-printed silver lamé — pieces that update the glamour of 1940s Hollywood and 1970s rock. As Dossena, who has lived in Paris since 2007, puts it, “Paco Rabanne used clothes to liberate, and I love that idea. But fashion can only be transcendent if it reflects the world we’re living in right now.”

CreditCourtesy of Paco Rabanne

“This picture of me was taken six months ago by Paolo Roversi. I’m such a fan of his work and was really shy during the shoot. I’m in a T-shirt and jeans, as usual — I’m always running late, so I don’t want to have to think about wearing anything else.”


Left: “This is my take on the Paco Rabanne mini bag from 1969 — I think the bubble-gum pink gives it a contemporary feel. Whenever you see Rabanne’s work, you know it was done by someone with an eccentric mind who didn’t care about trends.”

Right: “For its mix of austerity and radical art, the Judd Foundation in downtown New York is my dream house. It’s incredible to be surrounded by everything the artist loved, like this Dan Flavin light installation in Judd’s bedroom.”


Left: “New York has the best cocktails, and I can always drink several of the pepino diablo margaritas from La Esquina. Afterward, I walk around SoHo observing people on the street and what they’re wearing.”

Right: “I recently traveled on the Queen Mary 2 from England to New York and back again. The boat has an Old World elegance, but it’s also a machine and painted with strange colors — I was snapping pictures like mad because everything was so graphic.”


Left: “I bought a pair of these ’70s-era Gae Aulenti Patroclo lamps 15 years ago and keep them in my Haussmann apartment in Paris. They look like old scuba diving helmets with the metallic grills wrapped around them. They’re actually very Paco Rabanne, though I didn’t know I was going to work there when I got them.”

Right:Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’ (1975) is such a timeless reference for me. I’m always taken by the expression of violent feelings in the film — basically it shows miserable people living in exquisite surroundings.”


Left: “The Cloud bookcase by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec was one of the first pieces I bought for my apartment. It’s the first prototype they did for Salone del Mobile in Milan in 2004, and I was lucky to find it at a flea market in Paris. The marble table is from Knoll, and the chairs are early Philippe Starck — they’re not very comfy, but for me, it’s more about the purity of the design.”

Center: “I wear my baptism medallion almost every day. It was a gift from my grandmother, whom I lost two years ago, and reminds me of her in a joyful way. Because it’s so tiny, it also reminds me of how much I’ve grown up over the years.”

Right: “This patent-leather minidress with high pockets was one of my favorite runway looks from my debut collection at Paco Rabanne in 2014. Rabanne was very interested in materiality — he designed pieces in metal, wood and more, and this was my reinterpretation of what he did in the ’60s with molded rubber.”


Left: “I first saw this Jean Dubuffet piece, ‘Jardin d’Hiver’ (1969-70), at the Centre Pompidou when I was just a kid. It’s a room that you climb into like a cave, and I remember being caught off guard by its playfulness; I learned then that art can be immersive and weird and totally distort your senses.”

Right: Bret Easton Ellis’s ‘The Rules of Attraction’ (1987) is such a fun book. I first read it when I was 18, and then immediately read all his others. They made me want to go to Los Angeles, a city that I didn’t know at all but have since come to love for its melancholic emptiness. There’s something poetic about being in the car for hours just listening to music.”


Left: “I have a couple of these Nobody’s Perfect chairs by Gaetano Pesce in the yoga studio in my home and feel the same way about them as I do about the designs in the Paco Rabanne archive: They represent such a radical vision, and yet the resin material gives them an organic sensibility.”

Right: “A still of a model in William Klein’s 1966 film ‘Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?’ It was the first movie I saw that depicted the fashion industry in a way that felt somewhat realistic. You see the editors, the models, the shows and the excitement making up this wonderful sort of cult. And the clothes, which are just the sort of space-age get-ups Rabanne loved, are insane — like metallic sculptures built for bodies.”


Left: “I go to the Jardin du Luxembourg once a week. You can truly find beauty from every perspective there. And while there are plenty of statues and symmetrical vistas, there are also areas where the park feels more English in that everything becomes a little tough and wild.”

Right: “Here I am at around 5 years old, posing with some of my childhood sketches. I was always, always drawing. Even then, I knew that I needed to find a job where I could draw every day.”


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