Designer Paco Rabanne, iconoclast couturier of experimental dresses, dies at 88

A man with a mustache is flanked by two mannequins wearing paper dresses
Waxwork mannequins were used by Paris couturier Paco Rabanne for the presentation of his 1973 collection of paper dresses.
(Bernard Ferret / Associated Press)

Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born, pace-setting designer known for perfumes sold worldwide and for his metallic, space-age fashions, has died, the group that owns his fashion house announced on its website Friday.

“The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honor our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88. Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain,” the statement from Puig said.

Le Telegramme newspaper in Brittany quoted David Robo, the mayor of Vannes, France, as saying that Rabanne died at his home in Portsall, France.


Rabanne’s fashion house shows its collections in Paris and is scheduled to unveil the brand’s latest ready-to-wear designs during fashion week from Feb. 27 to March 3.

He was known as a rebel designer in a career that blossomed with his collaboration with Antonio and Mariano Puig, a Spanish company that now also owns other design houses, including Nina Ricci and Jean Paul Gaultier.

“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. 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?” said the statement.

The “Calandre” perfume was launched in 1969, the first product by Puig in Spain, France and the United States, according to the group.

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Born Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo in 1934, he fled the Spanish Basque country at the age of 5 during the Spanish Civil War and took the name of Paco Rabanne.


He studied architecture at Paris’ Beaux Arts Academie before moving to couture — in the steps of his mother, who was a couturier in Spain — where, he once said, she was jailed at one point for being dressed in a “scandalous” fashion.

He sold accessories to well-known designers before launching his own collection.

In the first collection under his name, he introduced “12 unwearable dressed in contemporary materials.” His innovative outfits were made of various kinds of metal, including his famous use of mail, best associated with Medieval knights.

Coco Chanel reportedly called Rabanne “the metallurgist of fashion.”

“My colleagues tell me I am not a couturier, but an artisan and it’s true that I’m an artisan. ... I work with my hands,” he said in an interview in the 1970s.