The fashion press was not prepared for Paco Rabanne’s first runway show in 1966. The title alone was a provocation: “Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials.” Models strode through Paris’s Hotel George V wearing jangly constructions made of Rhodoid or metal tiles, each pieced together with rings using needle-nose pliers. (“Sewing is a bondage,” Rabanne, who died this past February, used to say—an opinion likely informed by his seamstress mother’s work at the Balenciaga atelier.) Le Nouvel Observateur decried the collection as “plastic bombing,” as if it were a blitzkrieg on good taste. But the designer’s chain mail futurism soon caught on with a mod warrior class that included Françoise Hardy, Jane Fonda, and Peggy Guggenheim. By 1969, a year of lunar landings and sexual liberation, Rabanne expanded into perfume, calling his women’s scent Calandre—French for “car grill.”
Creative director Julien Dossena’s arrival in 2013 brought the fashion house back to the fore. (Next-gen fans include Elle Fanning and Beyoncé, who wore a spangled dress onstage for the Renaissance tour.) This month’s debut of Rabanne Beauty extends that luster with a full-face assortment that mines the brand’s metalwork roots and renegade spirit.
“It’s a fresh start,” says beauty creative director Diane Kendal, a longtime editorial force, as seen in her alluringly off-kilter campaign looks (molten silver careening down a model’s cheeks; golden eye shadow painted on with comic book precision). As she speaks, the familiar rattle of spray paint is audible: It’s one of the Shimmer Bomb mists in the Arts Factory lineup, alongside the liquid Metal Shots (to mix or dab on solo, as highlighter) and biodegradable loose glitters (no plastic bombing here). Kendal appreciates the natural-leaning formulas as much as she does the opportunity for discovery: “You need to be drawn in and surprised and excited.”
What makes the Rabanne aesthetic sing is a counterpoint of ease—bare skin peeking through mesh. The Fresh Touch foundation, lightweight and nourishing, has that effect; so does the lo-fi tinted Lovebalm for lips. (A sparkly lash top coat and lipstick dial things up.) It all speaks to a very human sense of play in contrast to an era of AI surreality. In the topsy-turvy ’60s, “the armor was almost necessary,” Rabanne said of his designs. So it is today.