Honoring Paco Rabanne's Contributions To Fashion With 5 Groundbreaking Looks

Spanish designer and perfumer, Paco Rabanne, has passed away at the age of 88. Before he was known as a high-fashion visionary with a taste for the subversive, Rabanne fled the Spanish Civil War to France with his mother, who was, at the time, the head of tailoring for Spanish fashion house Balenciaga (per People). He made his own fashion debut in 1964 with a controversial collection of twelve dresses, dubbed "The Twelve Experimental Dresses," followed by 1966's "The Twelve Unwearable Dresses," which featured garments made of unconventional materials, including plastics and metals (via Met Museum). First a student of architecture, some of the designer's most famous pieces feature construction made bare; chain links become thread seams, metals become fabrics. Rabanne retired from designing in 1999. 

Scanning through Rabanne's most iconic looks, one is first struck with the recognition of armor, due to his substantial use of chainmail. So much metal, however, is frequently offset with the softness of a mesh quality, or the presence of bare skin. His pieces become like jewelry in a sense, decorating the body as well as suggesting its protection. But his work is not brutal and cold, like armor might suggest, but whimsical and unexpected, even futuristic, playing with textures and optics as a means of subversion, equipping wearers with fashion for the new age. He solidified his place as a legendary designer of the counterculture, insisting that fashion hold its ground in the present, as well as honor the potential for change in the future. 

The quintessential Rabanne look

Paco Rabanne emerged as a designer whose pieces were inherently unconventional due to the materials used in their construction. One of his original 1966 "Unwearable" pieces still survives, catalogued by the Met Museum, and it's clear why the controversial metallic design helped to put Rabanne on the map. 

In the photo above, model Isabel Feldel can be seen wearing an original Paco Rabanne design — one much more ornate than the original "Unwearable" — posing with the designer himself in July 1967. The completed look, like so many of Rabanne's designs, also included a detailed and elaborate headpiece. 

Brining chainmail into the 1960s

In November 1967, model Jackie Bowyer sported a Paco Rabanne design consisting of a metallic chainmail bolero, matching mini-skirt, and elaborate headpiece. Rabanne's unconventional designs earned him flak from some of his fellow designers, namely the famed Coco Chanel. Per the Independent, Chanel wrote off Rabanne's work, saying, "He's not a couturier. He's a metal worker." Regardless, Rabanne's designs were beloved by celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and Francoise Hardy, who were spotted wearing a metal bag of his creation, as well as some of his other unusual designs.

Metal and mini-skirts

Model Karin Jensen rocked this chainmail mini-dress and matching headpiece at a Paco Rabanne show in London in January 1968. The silhouette might have been pretty typical for the 1960s, but metal dresses certainly were not the norm! "Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic," said José Manuel Albesa, president of Puig's fashion and beauty division, which owns the Paco Rabanne brand. "Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women to clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal?"

In addition being known for his unparalleled fashion designs, Rabanne developed a reputation as a respected perfumer. Albesa continued, "Who but Paco Rabanne could imagine a fragrance called Calandre — the word means 'automobile grill,' you know — and turn it into an icon of modern femininity?" (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Paco Rabanne embodied Barbarella's sci-fi looks

Paco Rabanne designed an iconic costume for Jane Fonda's 1968 sci-fi flick, "Barbarella." As Rabanne was already known for his metallic, avant-garde designs, creating the shiny, structured, and fitted piece Fonda sported for the space-age film was a perfect gig. Per Vogue, the rest of the movie's wardrobe was influenced by Rabanne's designs, as costume designer Jacques Fonteray looked to Rabanne's work for inspiration. W Magazine reports that Sydney Sweeney is attached to an upcoming "Barbarella" reboot, for which current Paco Rabanne creative director Julien Dossena might just be the perfect costume designer. 

Plastic discs can still be seen in Paco Rabanne designs

This Paco Rabanne dress from 1969 featured long sleeves, a short hem, and ... plastic discs? We can't say we're surprised. Rabanne was known for his out-of-the-box looks, so it makes sense that the boundary-pushing designer would begin to implement plastic materials after using metals for many of his designs. Paco Rabanne's fashion house continues to take inspiration from the designer's 1960s designs. It's easy to see the influence the dress made of plastic discs, shown above, may have had on the brand's current offerings, like the Plastic Pastilles Cap Sleeve Dress, or the similar, sparkly dress seen on Taylor Swift (via Instagram).