Over the decades, Spanish-born Mr. Rabanne has built a global brand widely known in retail for perfumes, men’s fragrances and ready-to-wear outfits and, in the couture world, for catwalk collections that experimented with colors and materials such as plastic, paper and even coconuts.
He was also a baffling eccentric, recounting what he described as past life details dating back to ancient Egypt, and doing doomsday scenarios in the 1990s that Russia’s Mir space station would crash to Earth in 1999, wiping out Paris. subject of caustic headlines such as “Beaming to Planet Paco.”
In contrast to his bold designs, he was known for his ascetic lifestyle with few possessions and periods of seclusion in France, where he was taken as a boy with his mother in the late 1930s after his father was killed in the Spanish Civil War for resisting the right-wing troops of General Francisco Franco.
“I have only one influence, and that is my invention of new substances,” he told The Independent in 2003. “That will be the only influence I have. You know I’m not so concerned with my legacy as I am with creating for the future. Never look back on the past.”
His influence in expanding the fashion vocabulary in the 1960s was aided by such admirers as Audrey Hepburn, Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy, all of whom wore his designs. Fashion Empress Coco Chanel called him “the metallurgist of fashion” for his pioneering mini-dresses made of aluminum and other materials and clumsy jewelry made of rhodoid, a type of plastic.
Fashion writer and historian Suzy Menkes called Mr. 1960s Rabanne “so much more than a new look”.
“It was quite a revolutionary attitude for women who wanted to both protect and assert themselves,” she wrote in an Instagram post following Mr Rabanne’s death.
His glittering, form-fitting costume for Fonda in “Barbarella” became one of the campy futuristic drama’s sultry showpieces.
‘That’s it!’” Fonda said in 2015 after seeing Mr Rabanne’s design for the film, which was directed by her husband, Roger Vadim. “I’m at my best when I’m wearing something structured, without frills or bows. Something that shows off my waist and bottom, because I’ve always had a good butt.”
Mr. Rabanne often played both the role of fashion provocateur and fashion innovator.
He once had his runway models wear astronaut helmets during a fashion show. He was one of the first to use Black catwalk models and sometimes mocked the pretensions of the industry with playful honesty. At his first major show in 1966 in Paris, he called the collection of metal dresses ‘Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials’. Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí hailed the show as the work of another Spanish visionary.
“So it was a moment when women emerged as warriors because they had to affirm their desire for emancipation, liberty and freedom,” said Mr. Rabanne. “The armor was almost needed.”
He added: “Who cares if no one can wear my dresses. They are statements.”
Yet he was also always looking to expand his name. Mr. Rabanne rose to fame in the 1970s for colognes, handbags and ready-to-wear that made him known to department store consumers around the world.
He later partnered with Spanish fashion house Puig, which owns a range of other brands including Nina Ricci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Carolina Herrera and Dries Van Noten.
Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo was born in Pasaia, in the northern Basque region of Spain, on February 18, 1934. His mother was a head seamstress at designer Cristóbal Balenciaga’s couture house in San Sebastián. His father, an officer in the anti-French Republican forces, was executed by Francoist loyalists after he refused to switch sides in the civil war.
The family fled to France in 1939 and Mr. Rabanne studied architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He found a sideline selling drawings of fashion ideas: shoe designs for Charles Jourdan, accessories for Christian Dior and Yves Saint-Laurent.
In a 1997 memoir, “Journey: From One Life to Another,” Mr. Rabanne said that fleeing Spain and watching World War II from France “grown him up” long before he was a teenager.
In 1959, Women’s Wear Daily published seven sketches of dresses signed “Franck Rabanne” – a name he used until he adopted Paco Rabanne in 1965. In his first studio, he used recycled bicycle seats for chairs and developed the idea of using recycled metals and other materials, such as paper and wood chips, for dresses, inspired by the found-art creations of Marcel Duchamp.
“I am always looking for new materials, not for their shapes but for the way the light plays on them and their textures. If I’m a designer, it’s to find new textures,” said Mr. Rabanne.
In addition to “Barbarella,” Mr. Rabanne’s designs were featured in other films, including director Jean-Luc Godard’s “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her,” and the espionage spoof “Casino Royale,” both made in 1967.
At the same time, Mr. Rabanne’s idiosyncrasies became legendary. At various times, he claimed to have known Jesus in past lives and killed the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamen, better known as King Tut. He urged people to leave Paris before August 1999, when he said the Russian Mir space station would enter the city and kill thousands.
He loved style koans. “Fashion heralds the future,” he said, describing his theory of hairstyles as crystal balls. “When hairballs fall, regimens fall. If the hair is smooth, then all is well.
In 2005, he opened an exhibition of his drawings, which he says were influenced by the 2004 attack in Beslan in Russia’s North Ossetia region, where Islamist militants killed more than 300 people, many of them children. Mr Rabanne asked if proceeds from the show would go to families affected by the bloodshed. For the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards, he designed a paper dress worn by Lady Gaga.
Mr. Rabanne’s influence remained a recurring theme among designers. In 2003, Prada covered bathing suits with molded plastic applique and Dolce & Gabbana unveiled astronaut-style silver suits – both paying homage to the work of Mr. Rabanne from the 1960s.
Mr. Rabanne presented himself as an outsider whose designs tried to shake up the fashion world. However, he could exude a sense of humor about the line between fashion as art and fashion as something practical to wear.
He told an interviewer that once in the 1960s he designed a mother-of-pearl disc mermaid dress for a client who owned an art gallery.
“She wore it to a Mozart concert one night,” he said. “She came in late and stopped the concert because she sounded like a wind chime.”