PACO RABANNE x VASARELY:

HOW DOES ART BECOME FASHION?

 

Words: Thea Bichard. Images: courtesy of Paco Rabanne.

As we question the future of feel-goodness as part of SUPERSELF, for the next chapter of ‘The Selfridges Corner Shop: Universe’ we explore the shared worlds of Paco Rabanne and the Fondation Vasarely, and how the two have collaborated on a joyful SS22 collection, which is now available online and at Selfridges London on 2.

PACO RABANNE x VASARELY:

HOW DOES

ART BECOME FASHION?

Words: Thea Bichard. Images: courtesy of Paco Rabanne.

As we question the future of feel-goodness as part of SUPERSELF, for the next chapter of ‘The Selfridges Corner Shop: Universe’ we explore the shared worlds of Paco Rabanne and the Fondation Vasarely, and how the two have collaborated on a joyful SS22 collection, which is now available online and at Selfridges London on 2.

Paco Rabanne SS22 runway show, featuring the Hexa Grace mosaic on the rooftop of the Auditorium Rainier III © Yannis Vlamos

What does a canvas painted in 1969 have to do with a crop top and matching midi skirt made in 2022? The answer started to unfurl in June 2021 on artist Victor Vasarely’s Hexa Grace mosaic on the rooftop of Monaco’s Center of Congress. Julien Dossena chose this beachside setting to present his SS22 Paco Rabanne collection that matched the brightness of the Technicolour roof tiles with bold prints designed in collaboration with the Fondation Vasarely. Then, in January this year, we opened The Selfridges Corner Shop: Universe, a first-of-its-kind exhibition and retail space that unites Vasarely’s uplifting Op Art creations, Paco Rabanne archival pieces and the brand’s SS22 collection.

 

Fashion designers often find inspiration in art history, but it’s not often that these homages tessellate as well as that of Paco Rabanne and Vasarely. Paco Rabanne and Victor Vasarely were contemporaries in 1960s Paris: against the earth-shaking backdrop of the Space Race, Vasarely was making waves with his foundational Optical Art canvases (which you can read more about here), while Paco Rabanne was dressing Jane Birkin, Françoise Hardy and Brigitte Bardot in futuristic chainmail and paillettes, forging fashion history. Julien Dossena notes that the two visionaries shared an “experimental, radical and intellectual way of working” – Rabanne by turning metal into couture; Vasarely by thrilling the art world one trippy, colourful square at a time. Now, for SS22, Dossena has worked with the Fondation Vasarely to reimagine those squares. “In homage of Vasarely, we worked on different modernist 60s prints, that are kind of linked to the Optical movement,” he says.

Hexa Grace (1979) instalment by Victor Vasarely on the rooftop of the Auditorium Rainier III. Image courtesy of Endless Travel/Alamy Stock Photo

BRINGING ART INTO THE EVERYDAY

Straightforward pleasures unite the worlds of Vasarely and Julien Dossena’s Paco Rabanne. Although Paco Rabanne’s founder named his first couture collection the ‘Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials’, his paillettes and chainmail were – and still are – enviable on any well-dressed dance floor (more on those later, though). Likewise, from his very first collection for the house in 2013, Julien Dossena has anchored his designs in the real world, cleverly incorporating the chainmail and metal mesh in ways that harmonise with his aesthetic of athletic references, fluid tailoring and fabrics such as jerseys that makes sense in real life.

 

Meanwhile, Vasarely’s mission was to create “art for all” by stripping his work of cultural specificity. He invented the ‘Alphabet Plastique’ in the early 1960s – 30 geometric shapes to coincide with 30 specially selected colours, which could be employed so that his canvasses would strike similar feelings in anyone who encountered them. Recontextualised by Julien Dossena, the patterns that embolden Paco Rabanne’s jersey, metal mesh and paillettes on top-to-toe sets of strappy tops and knit trousers, metallic two-pieces and rib-knit dresses need no context for you to find joy in the hypnotic hues.

Paco Rabanne SS22 runway show, featuring the Hexa Grace mosaic on the rooftop of the Auditorium Rainier III © Yannis Vlamos
Paco Rabanne SS22 runway show, featuring the Hexa Grace mosaic on the rooftop of the Auditorium Rainier III © Yannis Vlamos

SPIRIT OF THE SUN

The wider inspiration for SS22 follows this same easy-to-enjoy theme: named ‘Spirit of the sun’, the collection started with Dossena dreaming of balmy days, “what I was craving was really to just enjoy the sensation of the heat of the sun on the skin, swimming in the sea… how you can really celebrate that, and how you can enjoy and make the clothes that go with this lifestyle.” Once again, Dossena’s by-the-Med references harmonise with Vasarely’s universe. In 1947, Vasarely began holidaying in Brittany’s Belle-Isle, describing beach walks that are as evocative as this season’s sun-burned Paco Rabanne prints: “The pebbles, the seashells on the beach, the whirlpools, the hovering mist, the sunshine, the sky… in the rocks, in the pieces of broken bottles, polished by the rhythmic coming and going of the waves, I am certain to recognise the internal geometry of nature.”

 

Dossena brings that geometry squarely into SS22 with printed bucket hats to shield yourself from the sun’s rays, macramé tops to revel in them. In places, we find the sun-soaked theme through clever material techniques. The denim bucket hats, for example, are treated with lasers and dyed (as an earth-conscious alternative to water-intensive washes). The result, as Dossena describes, is that the Vasarely prints look “almost burned by the sun… as if these are vintage items that you left on the beach, and that you wear summer after summer.”

Paco Rabanne Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 1990–1991. Image courtesy of Paco Rabanne
Romina Power wearing Paco Rabanne in 1968. Courtesy of Giancarlo Botti/Getty Images

THE ENDURING POWER OF PACO RABANNE

Coming full, sequinned circle, there couldn’t be a Paco Rabanne collection without modernist metalwork, which shows up for SS22 as Vasarely-printed metal-mesh, chunky stacked chains and 1969 bags – but that’s not the only way to bring your wardrobe up to Bardot or Birkin standards. For that, we can go right back to the originals. “The metal fabrics are hard-wearing – a Paco Rabanne dress can be passed down for generations. The designs are modern and don’t age like most seasonal designs,” says Jefferson Ihenacho, Founder of Portobello Road vintage boutique One of a Kind Archive, who has curated an edit of iconic designs for the Paco Rabanne space at Selfridges London on the Atrium on 2. Drawn to “pieces that showcase the designers at their best”, Jefferson described the styles you can shop there: “we wanted to showcase a collection of archive Paco Rabanne that celebrates the brand’s unique use of innovative textiles and techniques throughout the years, such as a coat made from plastic with encased feathers, a chain top made from natural nut beads, and an evening dress with a large square mirrored plate.” Whether you dip into Paco Rabanne past or present, via prints or paillettes, that joyful spirit and revolutionary design never lose their shine.

The Selfridges Corner Shop: UNIVERSE at Selfridges London

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