In this post we describe the life and career of 14 of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th Century, from Cristóbal Balenciaga to Pacco Rabanne.
Cristobal Balenciaga was born January 21, 1985 in Getaria- a small fishing village in the Basque region of Spain. From these humble beginnings, Balenciaga cultivated a fashion career that made him known as an innovator of fashion.
As a child Balenciaga spent many hours with his mother, who worked as a seamstress. In 1919, Balenciaga opened his first couture house in San Sebastian, Spain. His work was received well and gained the favor of the Spanish royal family and aristocrats.
Though the Spanish Civil War forced Balenciaga to close his boutiques, he was not to be easily deterred. Balenciaga moved his work to Paris and staged his first runway show in August 1937 with a collection greatly inspired by the Spanish Renaissance. The French press praised Balenciaga in 1939, and everyone wanted to have access to his collection.
He did not fit the mold of the ordinary fashion designs people would see. Instead of the hourglass shape that Christian Dior promoted during that time, Balenciaga gave allowance in his designs, and made his clothing independent to each woman’s body. From 1953 onward, Balenciaga introduced designs that were so innovative that it allowed him to contribute to the fashion world a new silhouette for woman.
Some noted features that Balenciaga introduced were close-fitting waistlines, square shoulders, open necks, wide shoulders, and looser waistlines. Balenciaga continued through the 1960s to astound the fashion world with his technique. He was creative with his fabric, and careful with his designs. His clients appreciated the detail and care he took to each of his designs- to make sure the clothing complimented the wearer.
Cristobal Balenciaga closed his couture house in 1968, much to the dismay of his fans and clients. Four years later, he died in Spain on March 24, 1972.
Though he passed away, Balenciaga’s house went on. His nephews took over the business, and Nicolas Ghesquiere was hired in 1995 by the House of Balenciaga. Ghesquiere was initially hired as a designer but soon became the creative director for the House in 1997.
Today the House of Balenciaga is now in partnership with the Gucci Group and creates ready to wear, shoes, and accessories for both men and women worldwide. Holding true to the couturier that was a true inspiration for many in his day, the Fashion House of Balenciaga continues to influence the fashion world in the 21st century.
Although Pierre Balmain’s name may no longer be recognizable to the general population, his work speaks for itself. As one of the most important fashion designers of the 1950s, his creative brilliance was the inspiration for many of the elegant and iconic gowns worn by legendary Hollywood starlets. Born May 18, 1914 in Savoie, France, his family operated a fashion boutique. His own artistic talent was first channelled into the study of architecture. That architectural background has since influenced his clothing design, and he once explained that dressmaking was, to him, “the architecture of movement”.
In 1945, Balmain founded the fashion house Maison Balmain. His style was chic and elegant, and he became known worldwide for his skill in achieving a luxurious look. His bell-shaped skirts with small waists influenced Dior, and he designed the iconic uniforms of the Singapore Airlines flight attendants. In the United States, he helped popularize the stole or shawl for both day and evening wear. His sheath dresses beneath jackets became vogue, and he experimented with French lace. For a time, he served as the personal couturier for Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
Balmain expanded his designs to include perfumes. Vent Vert was his first commercially successful perfume, released in 1947. His other perfumes included Jolie Madame in 1953 and Ivoire in 1979. He even added Swiss watches to the collection.
Passion for clothing design later motivated Balmain to try his hand at costume design, with fantastic results. For his work on the Broadway musical “Happy New Year” in 1980, Pierre Balmain was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Costume Design, and he won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design. He was also the chief designer for Sophia Loren in No products found. in 1960. Pierre also worked with 16 different films, with credits including Brigitte Bardot, Vivien Leigh, and Mae West.
Balmain was director of the Maison Balmain until his death in 1982. The company continued to function for some time following his death and saw Oscar de la Renta as its artistic director for several years. Balmain recorded his own life in an autobiography entitled, “My Years and Seasons”.
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Pierre Cardin’s career in fashion began before World War II and has extended through the decades since. Although he took a brief hiatus to serve his country during that war, he returned to the textile and garment industry full time in the mid 1940’s. By the time 1950 rolled around, he had worked for 5 years as the head of the cutting floor workrooms at Christian Dior and was well on his way to launching his own first collection. Pierre Cardin is the owner of over five hundred patents in fashion, architecture and other industries, and is known to never have borrowed money from a bank.
Thanks to Pierre Cardin’s keen business sense and edgy design outlooks, he became known as one of the best French designers throughout the world by 1960 and ever since. His characteristic geometric shape patterns shaped a decade of sixties hipster fashion and lent a futuristic feel to his ensemble pieces. Pierre Cardin was also a revolutionary of the infamous mini skirt, and often teamed them with pantyhose in bright colours and prints. During this time period, Cardin’s designs were sold widely throughout United Kingdom and United States upscale department stores.
Pierre Cardin’s fashion visions of the late 1950s and through the 1960’s kept with the times. His widespread use of new technology and fabrics like silver vinyl reflected the space race between the United States and the USSR. He also created large zippers and helmet-like headpieces, which were very reminiscent of astronaut gear. He even created accessory jewellery pieces, made out of hammered metal and diamonds.
Pierre Cardin was also the fashion designer for the 1960’s action and adventure television program “The Avengers.” Almost as if he knew of the dramatic lifestyle changes to come from the 1950s to the 1960’s, he created a ready to wear collection for men in 1959, and another for women a few years later. It was around that time that he left haute couture fashion for more mainstream stylings and offerings that he could sell to a larger public.
In the mid-60s, Pierre Cardin even launched a children’s line. Although it wasn’t nearly as risqué and futuristic as his other collections, it was still met with high reviews. Pierre Cardin is truly a fashion icon.
For the first few decades of the 20th century, a British woman’s function in society mirrored her everyday wear; a closet full of complicated garments that were both constrictive and controlling. After World War II, women were relieved of their duties managing the home front, causing increasing ambiguity as to the female role in society, until the explosion of feminism in the 1960’s.
A new wave of women required a new wave of fashion. Bonnie Cashin, an American fashion designer who made her mark in the fashion industry by combining form and utility, revolutionized women’s sportswear, providing the modern woman with clothing that was feminine, functional, and fabulous.
Prior to the 1960’s, Cashin designed costumes for the theatre and constructed comfortable and protective uniforms for women serving in the armed forces during and after World War II. Cashin shied away from the extremely structured and rigid fashion that had been keeping women in their place for the last few decades, and instead created clothing that required minimum darting and seaming, with silhouettes based on the rectangle for simpler, less fussy couture.
In the early 1960’s, as the female population took to the workforce in spades, Cashin evolved the woman’s handbag to fit the needs of the modern working woman. When she launched a line of accessories for Coach, which was at the time a company predominantly geared towards males, she used innovative hardware such as her signature toggle for closures, creatively wedding function and form. Career women proudly wore Cashin’s designs on their shoulders as they took to the office, proving that style did not have to be merely decorative.
Cashin is credited with pioneering women’s sportswear, which was defined as comfortable and casual clothing that could be worn in any season and by any woman. Sportswear was highly functional fashion that fit to the attitudes of the emerging feminist spirit.
The 1960’s was a time of experimentation, innovation, and progress. The mobilization of youth culture affected the outcome of the rest of the century, as a new generation collectively refused to follow suit. As the 60’s became the 70’s, equality and a return to simpler, more organic ways became key. Bonnie Cashin’s innovative approach to fashion served a metaphor for bringing femininity to what was traditionally considered masculine, and forever altered the landscape of women’s clothing.
Andre Courrèges, a French born fashion designer and couturier of the 1960s, is held to a mythical status all over the world for his innovation and trend setting designs. As his style evolved from the purest of simple, basic mod designs to his iconic space age creations, Courrèges’ name is now almost universal. His name was branded on haute couture, ready-to-wear styles, and eventually licensed out for lesser-quality garments.
Courrèges was born in Pau, France, in 1923. While he originally studied to become a civil engineer, he quickly veered off into a different direction as he moved to Paris and began working for fashion houses. He started his own line in 1961, but only rose to superstar status in 1964 with the launch of modern, characteristically 1960s creations.
The first designs by Andre Courrèges were beautifully simple, featuring geometric silhouettes in square, triangle, and trapezoid shapes. Rigidly constructed garments in bold, eye popping shades accented with knee-high boots and round sunglasses quickly became his trademark. Much of his clothing, however, was shaded in brilliant, pure white- his signature color. In three years, he garnered fame as one of Paris’ most original designers.
His next collection featured something the fashion world had never seen before- clothing inspired by outer space. Created out of materials like plastic, and finished off with accessories like goggles, crash helmets, and boots, Courrèges’ space age collection became an instant hit. Featuring angular seams, and an uncluttered and boxy look, it truly was a marvel of its time.
In Andre Courrèges’ later years, his collections veered into a decidedly different style. With neon coloured jersey dresses, barely-there swimsuits, jumpsuits trimmed with sequins, and mechanic’s coveralls in acid shades, Courrèges’ style was constantly changing and evolving. His genius for creating sexy, flattering, and innovative designs never faltered, however.
The Courrèges brand is still alive today, however, it is virtually dead with little to no standing in the fashion world. As Andre Courrèges sold control of his line in 1985 to a ready-to-wear firm, and later died of cancer. He will always be remembered for his iconic styles and part in the 1960s fashion movement.
The post-war fashion climate of the 1950s was a bridge between the uncertain times of the war-torn 40’s to the revolutionary overtones of the 1960’s. Emerging designers created clothing appropriate for celebrating the end of the war and haute couture fashion blossomed on the tail end of World War II. The 1950s are largely known to be one of the defining eras in fashion and throwbacks like A-line skirts and snug cardigans that are still popular in modern day are a testament to that.
A French-born designer, Jacques Fath was on the forefront of 1950s fashion and called designers like Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain, peers. Jacques Fath was born in Maisons-Laffitte in 1912 to an artistically inclined family–his great grandparents were a fashion illustrator and writer, respectively. Fath taught himself fashion from both books as well as through his frequent visits to museum exhibitions.
In 1944, at the young age of 32, Fath founded his eponymous fashion line in France and called his 1950s collection titled, “Lily”, which included full, swinging skirts for those women who rode bicycles to avoid the strict gasoline rations. Just four short years after its inception, Fath became the first designer to export his clothing to the United States.
Fath received criticism from his French peers for doing so, however his clothing was not only picked up by Neiman Marcus but the department store also gave him the “Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion”. Fath’s fashion foray into the United States allowed Hollywood stars such as Greta Garbo and Ava Gardner to don his designs and Rita Hayworth even chose to wear one of his creations as her wedding dresses.
Not only did the American elite wear Fath, but the designer also had a hand in cultivating some of the most revered and relevant names in fashion, hiring young and talented assistants for his house who eventually came to start their own lines. These assistants were Hubert de Givenchy, Guy Laroche, and Valentino Garavani.
Fath died in 1954 to Leukaemia, and his haute couture line closed a few years later. Despite successful campaigns in perfumes, colognes and accessories, his fashion house was sold in 2006.
Roy Halston Frowick
When one thinks of Roy Halston Frowick – known in the fashion world simply as Halston – the first thing that comes to mind is simplicity. A talented fashion designer who got his start in the 1950s as a co-designer for Lilly Dache, a hatmaker and prominent fashion designer in that decade, Halston had set his sights high and established a name for himself in the 60’s when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was seen wearing Halston’s famous pillbox hat design to her husband’s inauguration. From there, he had nowhere to go but up.
Rejecting the ethnic peasant looks popularized by European designers, Halston stormed his way into a 1973 fashion show at Versailles with a shocking contribution to the world of womenswear. While retaining the ideals of femininity and beauty, Halston’s designs embodied minimalism and conceptual art, showcasing unique and stunning attire for every high-profile client.
That same year, he joined forces with Norton Simon Industries to produce menswear and perfume, but since he refused to put his name on anything he did not personally design and oversee, he met with only limited success. Yet Halston was not satisfied with dressing only the upper crust; he strived to dress America’s everywoman.
At the time, a high-end fashion guru designing clothes for women with all levels of income was a controversial move, but Halston was determined to provide women everywhere with clothing that they could look and feel glamorous in without breaking the bank. Furthermore, an interview with the New York Times revealed that he also wanted to dress women who were not model-thin by providing clothes that were fashionable, current, but flattering to women with larger figures.
Perhaps one of Halton’s most famous garments was the UltraSuede shirtwaist dress. The shirtwaist dress was already a well-known fashion choice, present since the early 1900’s, but Halston’s version, released in 1972, was constructed with a machine-washable material that the average woman could afford, maintain, and feel confident wearing.
With his versatile clothing options and fashionable eye, Halston attracted clients not only from suburbia, but also from the Hollywood A-list, dressing famous names like Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, Lauren Bacall, and Elizabeth Taylor.
Halston’s bold designs and appreciation for simplistic beauty assured that his label quickly became a household name. Even after his death in 1990, his bold designs from the 1970s were still considered comfort food and timeless pleasures in the fashion world.
Hubert de Givenchy
According to Givenchy’s official website, Hubert de Givenchy arrived on the Paris haute couture fashion scene in 1952, after studying with such notable Parisian designers as Jacques Fath, Robert Piquet and Lucien Lelong. That year, Givenchy introduced his line of separates, which showed tops with puffed sleeves paired with simple skirts.
Givenchy, however, was probably best known for the designs which highlighted his love affair with the female form. His creations showed a woman’s curves with distinct femininity—off the shoulder or strapless bodices drawn to a small fitted waist and skirts that flared out beautifully with lengths ranging from just below the knee to others that barely cleared the floor. His designs featured matching stoles made from the same material as the dress to round out the look.
A chance meeting with Audrey Hepburn turned out to be quite lucrative for Givenchy. In 1953, he was expecting to meet with Katherine Hepburn, when Audrey Hepburn showed up. Thus, began a professional relationship that would span over 40 years, with Hepburn inspiring Givenchy to create some of his most beautiful pieces and then modelling them for him both on and off screen. Givenchy became one of the premier designers to the stars and royalty alike, dressing such beautiful women as Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as Hepburn.
Toward the end of the decade, Hubert de Givenchy came up with a design that ran contrary to what he was famous for, i.e. beautiful form-fitting gowns. The sack dress, a shapeless chemise, was a straight up and down dress with no form; however, it caught on in women’s fashion for the fact that women who wore it felt freed from the constraints of form-fitting clothing.
Givenchy was one of the first designers to realize that women wanted designer clothing but didn’t want to necessarily wait for it to be custom made for them. In 1953, he launched his own luxury made-to-wear fashion line and opened a retail store in Paris, catering to women all over the world. And the rest is history.
Norman Hartnell was the appointed dressmaker to the British Royal family and an English fashion designer. From an early age he had a great talent for design and sketches, but it wasn’t until he was studying architecture at Cambridge that he started to design clothes. He began his career by opening his own dressmaking business in 1923, establishing his name as one of the most popular couturiers in Britain. Located in the heart of London, Norman Hartnell’s shop received visits from socialites, artists, film stars and royalty, for which he became known.
His style is known for intricate and extravagantly embroidered gowns, using fabrics such as satin and tulle. His first wedding dress was described as “the eighth wonder of the world” when the bride of Lord Weymouth worn it at their wedding. From then on, hundreds of socialites and celebrities wanted to be dressed by him, even though his clothes was nothing alike the “conventional” fashion because of its theatrical and costume-like styles, very lavish and excessive. In the words of the English designer, “Simplicity is the death of the soul.”
In 1935 came the first big break; the Royal commission to create a wedding dress for Lady Montague Douglas Scott and the dresses for the bridesmaids, two of them being Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Norman Hartnell was officially chosen dressmaker to the Royal Family in 1938. But it was in 1953 that he created the Queen’s remarkable coronation dress, a dress that greatly influenced Dior’s new collection, the collection that took a new step towards feminism in the post war era. A dress that is widely recognized as a symbolic royal look.
During the early 21st century, the house of fashion of Norman Hartnell was still dressing the Queen Mother. After his death in 1979, Marc Bohan, a French couturier, intended to continue his legacy. However, with the recession of the early years of 1990’s, Norman Hartnell closed its doors in 1992. Nonetheless, his own personal legacy, his royal dresses, are still alive in the history books and museums, and his name is recognized as one of the most influential dressmakers of the Royal Family.
Too often trendiness in fashion is a substitute for lack of vision – as few knew better than the Anglo-American designer Charles James who found the inspiration for his classic ball gowns in the elegant silhouettes of the Belle Epoque.
Often described as America’s first courtier, James was also one of the first of designers to understand that haute couture was a type of art; his early support of the Brooklyn Museum’s Design laboratory – where in 1948 the first exhibition of his own work took place – foreshadowed the tempering influence of such venerable institutions as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and the Museum of London upon the rapidly changing kaleidoscope that is the commercial fashion world.
While James’ gowns celebrated the decidedly decorative aspects of femininity, he approached design with the single-mindedness of a structural engineer. His construction techniques deployed corsets, bone and wire over which he arranged his subtly hued palette of fanciful fabrics in graceful swirls as though they had been not draped but sculpted. Under his guidance, cloth defied the laws of gravity. James designed many different types of clothes including tailored daywear and a line of coats and capes he hoped to turn into a lucrative ready-to-wear line, but he was most famous for his luscious ball gowns.
His ball gowns were not comfortable to wear, but that did not dissuade the richest and most beautiful society swans of his day – women like Babe Paley, Austine Hearst, Dominique de Menil, and Marietta Tree – from wearing and coveting them.
Charles James’s aesthetic had a huge impact on the fashion industry of his day, and he was a major influence on better-known contemporaries like Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior. James’s 1947 Paris collection was the European fashion highlight of that year.
Large-scale material success eluded him however, ironically enough because of his own perfectionism. He was seldom satisfied with the first iterations of his own designs, and would rework them again and again; consequently, when a client ordered a new garment, the garment was often delivered late or sometimes not even at all.
A close examination of James’ famous hand-quilted jacket, now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, bears evidence to the many times he stitched and restitched the garment before it finally measured up to his exacting standards.
Forgotten for a time, today Charles James today is celebrated as the genius who first achieved parity between European fashion and high-end American design.
Yves Saint Laurent
The 1960s was truly a decade of rapid change – socially, politically and culturally. All times of change are reflected in fashion and the 1960s is a perfect example of this. And, certainly, when the Yves Saint Laurent clothing brand was founded in 1962 a new era of clothing was born.
In the early part of the decade, coming out of the conservative 1950s, styles were still simple, but colours brightened and elements of outfits over-emphasized – huge buttons, bold patterns. In 1963 the ties to the restrictive 1950s were being cut with items of clothing like the bikini – quite the change from swimwear to date. The style of Jackie Kennedy was emulated by women around the world – tidy jackets, pillbox hats and big sunglasses.
The mid-1960s saw the full introduction of bold colours and geometrical patterns, like Yves Saint Laurent’s Piet Mondrian inspired dresses. Skirts got higher and the Mods and Rockers started a fashion war – the slim-lined, bellbottom, preppy look versus leather jackets, greased big hair and jeans. In 1966, Laurent released his Le smoking tuxedo suit for women – an experimental, controversial move received with mixed reviews, but ultimately, seen as a sign empowerment for women.
In the same year, he pushed the concept of the ready to wear clothing to save women time getting dressed. Reflecting the social and cultural shift in attitudes towards race, Laurent used the first black models in his shows. By the mid-1960s, fashion-lovers had a range of ways to express themselves in ways that had not been possible before.
Laurent’s release of his collection La Saharienne in the late 1960s broke the mould once more: A safari collection inspired by his love of Africa. The latter part of the decade saw the beginning of the slide into the hippy, psychedelic movement. Many women dressed in an androgynous style, showing their independence by no longer focusing on looking feminine.
Despite this, the Mary Quant mini skirt continued to be popular with many women who coupled it with high-necked sweaters and knee-high suede boots. The late 1960s was truly a time of counterculture with the fashionable youth stepping out strides ahead of the generations before them, challenging the status quo in fashion, music and politics.
Emilio Pucci’s imprint on the fashion world became marked in the history with the introduction of his signature prints. Often imitated, these colourful patterns have become icons, the pinnacle of psychedelic fashion. These motifs made their way into housewares and pop-culture memory. The dancing flow of Pucci’s geometric patterns is reminiscent of Art Nouveau’s graceful lines while also distinctly psychedelic.
Echoed in the early light shows incorporated in psychedelic rock concerts, this ebbing and flowing of vivid colours harkens back to ancient descriptions of what is sometimes called ‘The Dreamtime’, a sacred space entered into by a Shaman. The sixties were certainly a time of dreams and hopes. Perhaps the collective subconscious of mankind was channelled into the stunning wearable artworks created and inspired by Emilio Pucci.
Emilio Pucci designed a winning new image for the Braniff airlines in the late sixties, creating the most memorable stewardess uniforms in history. The highlight of his uniform offerings was the ‘bubble helmet’, a Mod-influenced clear plastic hood giving a space-aged appearance to the air cabin staff.
Also working with the United States space program, Emilio Pucci designed the patches worn by astronauts of the Apollo 15 mission in the summer of 1971. As a fashion designer, Emilio Pucci has left quite an impression in a turbulent and changing era in history. While controversies raged over rising hemlines and gender-bending hairstyles, Emilio Pucci was creating his signature patterns that would become symbols of the era.
The Pucci label, now helmed by the late designer’s daughter, still holds an esteemed position in the luxury goods market with it’s apparel and accessories lines. Silk scarves bearing the signature patterns are an immensely popular way to incorporate the now classic Pucci print into one’s wardrobe. Favoured by many serious collectors of Pucci’s work are his pieces made in the sixties of his distinctly flowing abstract print.
As one of the early luxury brands, the Pucci collection has always used the finest fibres and workmanship. Vintage clothing bearing the Pucci label rivals and often exceeds the price of modern couture. Examples of the designer’s work are featured in many museum collections for their impact on both fashion and modern art.
You cannot discuss 1960’s fashion without mentioning one name: Mary Quant. This innovative designer has been credited with helping to bring the miniskirt, hot pants, and patterned tights into the mainstream. Her influence was far reaching, and her “mod” look is still being worn by some of the most fashion-conscious women walking the streets today.
Mary Quant was born February 11, 1934 in Blackheath. She originally studied illustration in college and was drawn to fashion when she began work as a couture milliner. In 1955, Mary Quant and her husband opened their first clothing store, Bazaar. She made a name for herself selling funky dresses, and colourful tights. She soon became disenchanted with what was being offered by her manufacturers, so she hired a dressmaker, and began designing clothing in her London apartment.
Her original line offered Mary Quant little critical or financial success. This was until 1963, when the American based department store J.C. Penney offered her the opportunity to design a line to revitalize their image. Her popularity skyrocketed in mid 60s with her introduction of the micro mini and plastic raincoats. This boom lasted throughout the rest of the decade, when her hot pants flew off the shelves, and onto the hips of young women across England and the United States.
Mary Quant helped bring about a revolution in woman’s clothing not seen since the era of the flappers during the 1920’s. Fashion became about youth and vitality, not what was being presented in the stuffy couture houses of Paris and Milan. Women of all ages and social standing could walk down the streets of London, New York, or Cleveland, wearing designer pieces that were considered the height of fashion. Her unique influence was even seen in the world of music. Singer Donovan Leitch mentioned the name Mary Quant in his 1967 song “Sunny South Kensington”.
In the 1970’s, Mary Quant’s focus shifted from fashion to household goods, make up, home furnishings, and even her own brand of wine. Her role had become one of consultant during the past three decades, and in 2000, she resigned from her cosmetic’s company Mary Quant, Ltd.
Paco Rabanne, perhaps best known for his costume design of the film Barbarella, embodied the spirit of the 1960’s: a time when the glamour of the old world gave way to the innovation and experimentation that would define a generation.
Born in 1934 in San Sebastian Spain as Francisco Rananeda Cuervo, he fled Spain for France with his mother after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Originally known as one of the enfant terrible of Paris fashion, he began his career making jewelery for Givenchy, Dior, and Balenciaga. However, in 1966, he branched out into his own line.
Founding his own house, Paco Rabanne sought to revolutionize fashion through his innovative use of materials. By adopting materials that strayed from non-traditional textiles, he was able to create designs that had not yet been realize din the fashion world. He notes his interest in nontraditional materials as rising out of his interest in architecture.
His first collection included dresses made from cardboard, metal, rhodoid, and traditional textiles. Although his initial designs featured metal plates that were reminiscent of ancient armour, he adapted this design to more complicated patters of smaller plates. His primary focus was to capture light in his designs. Since his beginning, he has been integral in innovating new, non-traditional materials into the fashion world.
Another major focus of Paco Rabanne was his innovation into perfume. His first perfume Calandre premiered in 1969 in a bottle circled in metal. His fragrances, including Paco Rabanne pour Homme, Sport, and Paco were all innovative for the time. Most of his fragrances are a combination of wood scents that complement a style of clothing that is ahead of its time.
Since his noted first line, he created a line of disposable paper clothing that was sold in envelopes in 1966. After 34 years of innovation, Paco Rabanne shut down the Haute Couture line that had made him a staple of the fashion to focus on his Paco line of unisex ready-to-wear clothing. It is rumoured that Rabanne will return to the runway in 2009.
Primarily active in the 1960’s, Rabanne revolutionized fashion with his fragrances. However, he will always be remembered for his innovative use of nonstandard fashion materials and a haute couture that remains unmatched.