Here, Now: 

Paco Rabanne Fall 14

A specific kind of time travel is in vogue right now: the retro-futurism of the resurrected couture house. Designers at labels with long histories find themselves in a tight balancing act of past and future. On the one hand, there’s the need to engage with the house archive and establish continuity. On the other, the pressure to make classic styles new, and for designers to add their own voices. Add to that the current season’s competing trends of 60s and 70s references and high-tech futurism. Then throw in the paradox of simultaneously honoring a label’s revolutionary values and its signature designs: how to innovate within context? It’s a moment tailor-made for the questioning spirit of Paco Rabanne.

Rabanne himself was an enfant terrible, even for 1960s Paris. He started as an accessories designer for Christian Dior, Givenchy, and Balenciaga, then launched his couture career in 1966 with a manifesto collection titled “12 Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials.” They were, in fact, wearable: Mod minidresses made from discs of transparent rhodoid plastic, paper, fluorescent leather, hammered metal, oversized sequins, Perspex, or knitted fur. Think Jane Fonda in Barbarella, whose costumes Rabanne designed, or Jane Birkin in a short and sheer dress crafted from his signature fluid metal chainmail. Bold fusions of fashion and sculpture, his designs embody an era when the codes of sophistication were being rewritten, and modernity looked particularly futuristic.

Current creative director Julien Dossena takes on Rabanne’s legacy with an especially well-prepared eye to the present. Four years as senior designer at Balenciaga alongside Nicolas Ghesquière sees him well versed in balancing heritage with ahead-of-its-time innovation. His own line Atto was shortlisted for last year’s LVMH Young Fashion Designer prize on the strength of its sleek and straightforward colorblocked tailoring. And at just 30, he’s got a crucially youthful outlook.

Where does he see Rabanne’s unconventional materials in today’s vernacular? As counterpoints to menswear-influenced tailoring, luxe athleticwear, and notes of asymmetry. A chain mail skirt has a long and daring diagonal hem; a grey wool overcoat gets an unexpected silver foil lining. A vest of laser-cut leather tiles is riveted together overtop a crisp shirtdress. Accessories bring subtle notes of geometry: layered discs of leather on minimalist shoulder bags have a Pop Art feel, and black ankle boots get a blocky contrasting white heel. Trousers and shells with sporty zippers, sheer paneled turtlenecks, and quilted leather ski jackets are all animated by an undercurrent of 60s Mod style that looks just as futuristic today.

Spring 13 marked Dossena’s first collection for Paco Rabanne. He’s wasted no time in developing a perfectly adapted vision: polished, wearable, and poised at just the right intersection of past and future.