Vogue previews Paco Rabanne’s AW19 collection
It’s an unseasonably hot day in February when Vogue meets Paco Rabanne’s creative director Julien Dossena ahead of the autumn/winter 2019 show. Upstairs in the Rue François 1er studio—through a brilliant white lobby where a diverse cast of models await their fittings—Dossena, who is responsible for the label’s modern reboot, is stationed behind a large glass desk to oversee proceedings. Dutch model and member of the new-era Paco Rabanne clan, Rianne van Rompaey, enters wearing a strapless tiger-print sequined gown layered over an Art Deco-print sports jersey, strands of gold threaded through her auburn hair catching the light as it pours through the panel windows. Parisian power stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé is stationed close by, on hand to direct the young design team who swoop in to adjust van Rompaey’s hemline and waistband, a half-centimetre here and there.
Before the model heads back to the screened-off changing area, she pauses for the photograph that will identify her look backstage at the show. The heels of her oxblood cowboy boots sink ever so slightly into a carpet that Dossena says is just like one you’d find in LA’s Beverly Hills or Sunset Tower hotels—a feature he will replicate on his runway this season.
“I was looking at a lot of David Lynch movies. It’s not decadent, but it’s old-school Hollywood,” he explains of the new eveningwear-focussed collection. The shadowy opulence of Lynch’s masterpiece Mulholland Drive also served as inspiration for the Art Deco chandeliers that will hang above the Paco Rabanne catwalk.
If last season the Paco Rabanne woman was enjoying a leave of absence, soaking up the charms of a far-flung destination in tie-dye emblazoned with the words “lose yourself”, this season she is prepped to venture out into the night. “We all love the coolness of casuals, but the core of fashion for me is really trying to give people the possibility of clothes,” Dossena explains—and it’s this transformative power of clothing, giving you the freedom to become whoever you choose, that has inspired the latest collection.
His intuitive understanding of fashion’s ability to transport its wearer to another realm references everything from Paris’ dandy culture, to the non-stop tabloid coverage of royal style and the modern resurgence of New York’s legendary vogue balls. There are long hemlines, cropped shorter at the front for a modern take on an heirloom gown, and shoulder-grazing diamante earrings that hint at the treasures of a drag artist’s jewellery box.
“I was looking at vogueing to build a character that gives you freedom and more personal expression,” Dossena says, citing documentaries such as 2018’s Pose and 1990’s Paris is Burning as references. “These films show gay, transgender, black American kids that were, in the 1980s, on the edge of society—who were so precise about what power fashion can give them.”
It’s no coincidence that the French capital is currently experiencing a vogueing revival, spearheaded by local artists including musician Kiddy Smile, who launched his new album One Trick Pony at the end of last year with a ballroom fete. As Dossena puts it, it’s in these spaces that we are able to “live [our] inner self and show it to the world”.
For Dossena, the elemental chainmail that features so heavily in Paco Rabanne’s legacy helps tell a new story in 2019, offering a declaration that in cities across the world our nightlife is not disappearing. That clothes can be uplifting and “touch every side of society”, he explains. Whether the idiosyncratic chainmail or “plasticy pop” spirit—as the designer fondly refers to it—Paco Rabanne’s archive celebrates something at once tender and primal that hasn’t dated since those electrifying designs of the 1960s. These new carpet-skimming dresses and acres of sequins ask to be taken out and, in modern party vernacular, snapped under iPhone flashlights. As the sun sets on Dossena’s acclaimed SS19 collection, a new night-time tale begins for AW19.
“I was really interested in uplifting people,” he says as we part. Words that resonate as Chinese model Liu Wen, fresh out of her fitting, catches us on the way out to express the joy of test-running her catwalk look. Hanging on the mood board in the background, the sequinned skirt she will wear glitters, refracting the light. Just imagine the damage it could do on the dance floor.