Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne dead at 88

Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne, known for his eccentric clothing designs and for founding one of the world's best-known fragrance brands, died on Friday at the age of 88.

Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne dead at 88
Paco Rabanne dies aged 88. Photo: Frederick FLORIN / AFP

Rabanne’s death was confirmed to AFP by the parent company of his brand, who said he had “marked generations with his radical vision of fashion and his legacy will live on”.

“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women to clamour for dresses made of plastic and metal?” said José Manuel Albesa, of Barcelona-based Puig, which owned Rabanne’s label since the 1960s.

Rabanne was a key figure in the space-age fashion movement of the 1960s, known for using metal and other unlikely materials in his outfits.

He teamed up with Puig in 1968 and they released their first fragrance together a year later, leading to a perfume line that remains one of the most globally popular today.

“A major personality in fashion, his was a daring, revolutionary and provocative vision, conveyed through a unique aesthetic,” said chairman Marc Puig in the statement.

Nicknamed “Wacko Paco” in the 1960s for his often unwearable designs, Spain’s Paco Rabanne became best-known in later years for his globally popular line of fragrances as well as his eccentric beliefs.

Dismissed as “the metal worker” by Coco Chanel, his influence nonetheless carried through many generations and he famously dressed global superstar Lady Gaga in outfits made entirely of paper for her 2011 appearance at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

He also designed Jane Fonda’s iconic costume for 1968 sci-fi film “Barbarella”, and dresses for French icons Brigitte Bardot and Francoise Hardy.

Rabanne started out as a co-creator of the 1960s space-age movement in fashion alongside designers such as Pierre Cardin, who incorporated the era’s giddy excitement around the future and technological advancements into their clothes.

His 1966 show brought immediate fame and notoriety when he stunned the audience with “12 Unwearable Dresses”, his models dancing barefoot down the catwalk in outfits made of sharp metal and other unlikely materials. 

“I have always had the impression of being a time accelerator,” he wrote in typically enigmatic style for a retrospective at Antwerp’s fashion museum MoMu in 2016.

“Of going as far as is reasonable for one’s time and not indulge in the morbid pleasure of the known things, which I view as decay.”

Models present creations by Paco Rabanne during the Women’s Fall-Winter 2020-2021 show in Paris. Photo: FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP

Fleeing Franco

Francisco Rabaneda-Cuervo was born in 1934 in Spain’s Basque region, near the city of San Sebastián, where his mother was a seamstress for the designer Cristobal Balenciaga and his father was an army general.

Rabanne’s life was uprooted by the Spanish Civil War when the army of dictator Francisco Franco turned on his father, a commander of the Guernica garrison, and gunned him down in 1936.

In 1939 his family fled to France and Rabanne went on to study at the Beaux-Arts university in Paris, graduating with a diploma in architecture.

He began his fashion career creating accessories – jewellery, ties, buttons – that caught the attention of Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Cardin.

After the media furore around his own line, Rabanne signed a deal in 1968 that brought him under the ownership of the Barcelona-based Puig family, heavyweights in the fashion and fragrance industry.

It marked his entry into perfumes that would see his name become synonymous with cologne, ultimately even eclipsing his fame as a designer.

‘Mystic, madman’

Ever the provocateur, Rabanne had a penchant for mysticism and esoterism. He claimed to have had multiple lives, to have been some 78,000 years old, to have made love to the Earth, seen God and been visited by aliens.

In 1999 he predicted in his book ‘Fire From Heaven’ that Paris would be destroyed later that year when the Russian space station Mir crashed down to Earth – a claim derived from his reading of the 16th-century French seer Nostradamus.

“To say that Paco Rabanne marches to his own drummer is an understatement,” the New York Times wrote in 2002. “He’s been called a futurist, couturier, mystic, madman, Dadaist, sculptor, architect, astrologer, perfumer, artist and prophet.”

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Meet the Spanish youth reframing the news for TikTok, YouTube

In the suburbs of Madrid, four young women are hard at work creating videos summarising the news that is viewed every day by millions of people on TikTok.

Meet the Spanish youth reframing the news for TikTok, YouTube

They are part of a growing army of young people making content about current events which attract more viewers on social media than videos published by the traditional media.

The idea emerged when two of the women were studying in London between 2016 and 2020 as Britain was preparing to leave the European Union.

“We would read a bunch of articles but we weren’t able to get a broad understanding” of the topic, said 26-year-old biotechnology graduate Gabriela Campbell. “We thought if it’s hard for us, there must be more people like us too,” she told AFP.

So the pair joined forces with two other friends to launch an account on TikTok called “ac2ality” in June 2020, just as the popularity of the Chinese short-video sharing app was soaring among young people.

Nearly three years on, the account has 4.3 million followers – more than the majority of major media outlets. That makes ac2ality the top news account in Spanish on TikTok, according to the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The four do not consider themselves journalists, saying instead they “translate the news” in one-minute videos made with a smartphone and a circular light to ensure well-lit images.

Their video narrating the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, was seen over 17 million times.

Lighter tone

Social networks like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok have become the main source of news for young people, according to several studies, including one by Britain’s media regulator Ofcom.

Some initiatives offering news content “designed by young people for young people”, such as French firm Brut, have already become heavyweights, said Reuters Institute researcher Nic Newman.

Thanks to algorithms, news accounts run by individuals and “not necessarily companies” can now “reach huge numbers of people” on social media, he said.

In France, HugoDecrypte is one of the most followed news accounts on social media and has broadcast interviews with French President Emmanuel Macron and Bill Gates.

Its founder, 25-year-old YouTuber Hugo Travers, told AFP he knows “how to talk to a generation” that simply “tunes out” when news is presented in a more traditional format.

Susana Perez Soler, a journalist and digital communications expert at Barcelona’s Ramon Llull University, said such accounts owe their popularity to their lighter tone, creative formats and short lengths.

In cases like ac2ality, they are providing a “summary” of the news and “not journalism”, which requires “investigative work, finding sources and checking their reliability”, she added.

‘I’m my own editor’

The millions of subscribers these accounts attract have aroused the envy of major media outlets which struggle to reach young people.

A large Spanish media firm made a bid for ac2ality but the four founders wanted to maintain their independence.

Co-founder Daniela Alvarez said “one of the keys” to ac2ality’s success was “not being associated with the mainstream media” which can sometimes be “politicised” or burdened by cumbersome procedures.

Some journalists who work for traditional media outlets also run their own news accounts on social media.

Sophia Smith Galer, a 28-year-old British journalist with Vice News, has an account on TikTok where her videos on sexual health have been watched more than 130 million times.

“You don’t have to convince a gate-keeping news editor why a story is important,” she told AFP. “I am my own editor on that,” she said. “What young people consider to be newsworthy is not necessarily what
traditional news media think is newsworthy.”

Those between 15 and 30 do still turn to traditional media in some cases, said the researcher, Newman.

“When you talk about something like Ukraine, a lot of young people don’t want that presented to them by 18-year-olds,” he said. “They want the news presented by people who are actually in the war zone
and really know what they’re talking about.”