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Julien Dossena remembers the exact Paco Rabanne collection where he felt as though he had really hit his stride. “It was Fall/Winter 2018,” recalls the house’s creative director. “It was an homage to Paco Rabanne by mixing chain mails and iconic pieces and generic wardrobe elements. It ended up being super balanced and felt real, and it allowed me to turn a page and open a new chapter of my work there, as if I knew I understood the house and I could move on to something more personal.”
House founder Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo, born in Spain in 1934, worked under the pseudonym of Paco Rabanne. An enfant terrible of Paris fashion, he sought out unconventional materials to craft designs that became synonymous with 1960s Mod fashion. Jane Fonda famously wore his costumes in 1968’s Barbarella, while Audrey Hepburn eschewed her preferred Givenchy in favor of a Rabanne chain mail dress in 1967’s Two for the Road.
Dossena — whose designs have been worn recently by Anne Hathaway (on The Kelly Clarkson Show), Joey King, Sabrina Carpenter and Demi Singleton — says he isn’t intimidated by the house’s history or its strongly identifiable codes. “I love the label in the fact that it was really pure, a free territory to create a proposition for a new aesthetic,” the 40-year-old designer notes. “It’s also a name that carries strong values of modernity, sensuality and radical gestures. I felt it was the best place to cultivate a unique heritage and update it for the now.”
“In my book, any designer who’s killing it is speaking to women about how they want to feel,” says star stylist Erin Walsh, who counts Hathaway and Kerry Washington among her clients. “What Julien is doing is not just about the joy, his clothes are also showcasing the woman. And the pieces are just incidentally fabulous and really fun to wear, and you feel sexy. When you wear one of his pieces, you feel like the best version of yourself.”
For his Fall/Winter 2022 collection, Dossena employed the house’s iconic chain mail as a more tailored detail on skirts and dresses with asymmetrical draping or crafted in bubble silhouettes. The latter was perfect for Singleton (King Richard) to wear at Vanity Fair‘s Oscar Party in March. “I wanted to work on bodies and proportions, like an organic couture or something,” Dossena explains. “So I went for it and adapted this sensation to metal mesh and worked it to tame it until it would be exactly matching this idea.”
Dossena also designed a custom silver embroidered sequin top and gold sequin skirt for Carpenter (Work It; Tall Girl) for the most recent Met Gala.
“We’ve seen several people who have tried to take on Paco Rabanne, but Julien really has revived it and brought so much life to it,” says Bolden, who styled both Singleton and Carpenter in Paco Rabanne. “What Julien has done is so smart; being able to work with someone as young as Demi and have him jump on board with this young Black actress, who’s 15, and what he pulls out from the past feels so current. And then when you look at Sabrina Carpenter walking in that gold skirt, you realize that he hasn’t lost that splashy mod point of view, he’s made it spot-on with today’s fashion.”
That balance indeed will continue to draw Dossena’s focus. “Most of the time I always try to go with the instinct of what feels more in the now and base my decisions on that scale,” he says. “So the balance really depends on the collection and what I feel in the moment — sometimes more Paco, sometimes more me. It changes all the time, and that’s also what fashion in general is about.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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