Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born designer synonymous with a Space Age aesthetic and best-selling perfumes, has died at age 88 in Portsall, France.
His death was confirmed by Spanish group Puig, which controls the Paco Rabanne fashion house and fragrance business.
“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic,” said José Manuel Albesa, president of Puig’s fashion and beauty division. “Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women to clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? 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?”
“That radical, rebellious spirit set him apart: There is only one Rabanne,” he continued. “With his passing, we are reminded once again of his enormous influence on contemporary fashion, a spirit that lives on in the house that bears his name.”
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Paco Rabanne,” said Marc Puig, chairman and chief executive officer of Puig. “The history of Puig and Paco Rabanne began in the late 1960s with the launch of Calandre, the perfume created soon after the designer released ‘12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials.’
“A major personality in fashion, his was a daring, revolutionary and provocative vision, conveyed through a unique aesthetic,” added Puig. “He will remain an important source of inspiration for the Puig fashion and fragrance teams, who continuously work together to express Mr. Paco Rabanne’s radically modern codes. I extend my sincere condolences to his family and to those who have known him.”
Antonio and Mariano Puig, members of the second generation of the Puig founding family, first visited Rabanne’s offices in Paris near the Folies Bergère and signed the designer on in 1968. The seminal fragrance Calandre was launched in 1969, in Spain, France and the U.S., breaking ground for Puig’s international development.
Paco Rabanne Pour Homme came out in 1973, paving the way for the brand’s blockbuster men’s scent portfolio.
Rabanne retired from fashion in 1999, after his last couture show that took place on July 17 of that year, marking his 33rd couture presentation.
After that, Rabanne was rarely seen in the public eye.
Barcelona-based Puig revived Rabanne’s dormant fashion business in 2011, first with Indian designer Manish Arora.
Frenchman Julien Dossena, an alum of the Nicolas Ghesquière era at Balenciaga and a popular figure on the Paris scene, has been leading the fashion house since 2013.
Though best known for his metallic ensembles, Rabanne presented his first collection in 1966 using plastics. The debut collection, entitled “12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials,” enraged the French fashion press, while simultaneously putting Rabanne on the map and setting the course for his design future.
Propelled by a more enthusiastic American following, and the 1960s spirit of experimentation, Rabanne moved from plastics to metal, paper, buttons, and fur, dressing the likes of Mia Farrow, Audrey Hepburn and Jane Fonda along the way.
Though his designs were untraditional, he told WWD, “I’m one of the most classic creators of fashion. Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Cardin are baroque.” Yet through his use of alternative and industrial materials, Rabanne became viewed as more of a futuristic fashion visionary than a classic creator.
Rabanne’s visions into the future reached beyond fashion.
Once likened in WWD to Nostradamus, for some Rabanne is known less for his fashion and more for his millennial prediction of the Russian space station crashing into Paris.
Heavily involved in astrology and the occult, Rabanne once described himself as “a bit of a medium, a clairvoyant.” In a 1975 interview with various socialites and friends, he announced, “I have always believed in magic, ever since I was eight. I am an Aquarius, that is why I am on the earth, in order to foresee the Third World War.”
While his various Armageddon predictions fell short in hindsight, the mystic influence on his fragrance and fashion did lead to various successes. When launching the gothic women’s Black XS fragrance, which included ingredients from a mythic witches’ brew, Rabanne told the press the recipe was inspired by an altercation with a phantom being. Several months after launching, the scent was ranked eighth in sales for Sephora France and considered a standout performer by most retailers.
Rabanne also accurately foreshadowed the role of the internet in retail and marketing, and was one of the first designers to launch a fragrance online in the mid-1990s. Using the now defunct e-commerce site CyberShop, the Rabanne scent XS Pour Elle made its debut online months before hitting department store shelves—a pioneering move at the time. Rabanne took the promotion a step further and participated himself in a live chat session on the site.
Fast-forward to today, and the Paco Rabanne fragrance business, best known for its male scent franchise, ranked third globally in 2021. It has three masculine pillars – One Million, Invictus and, most recently, Phantom, with a robot-shaped, connected bottle.
In July 2022, Paco Rabanne launched Fame, the women’s fragrance fronted by Elle Fanning, which is meant to channel Hollywood glamour with a Parisian twist and catapult the brand into the women’s fragrance stratosphere. Fame’s bottle is robot-shaped, as well, but dressed in Rabanne’s iconic chain-mail dress and boots echoing those designed by creative director Dossena in real life.