Spanish Fashion Designer Paco Rabanne Dies at Age 88

Paco Rabanne - Exhibition launch "La Tentation de L'espace"
Paco Rabanne - Exhibition launch "La Tentation de L'espace"

Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

Paco Rabanne, legendary Spanish fashion designer, died on Feb. 3 at age 88 in France, his fashion house announced on social media.

"The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honour our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88. Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain a constant source of inspiration," an Instagram reads, alongside a 1999 portrait of Rabanne.

The announcement continues, "We are grateful to Monsieur Rabanne for establishing our avant-garde heritage and defining a future of limitless possibilities."

Puig, the parent company of Rabanne's fashion house and fragrance business, confirmed the news of his death to WWD, remarking on his icon status. "Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic," said José Manuel Albesa, president of Puig's fashion and beauty division. "Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women to clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? Who but Paco Rabanne could imagine a fragrance called Calandre – the word means 'automobile grill,' you know – and turn it into an icon of modern femininity?"

paco rabanne
paco rabanne

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Rabanne, whose real name was Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo, was born in 1934 in Spain. While he was growing up, his mother was a seamstress for Cristóbal Balenciaga's first fashion house. In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, which claimed Rabanne's father's life, she moved the family to Paris, where Rabanne ended up studying architecture before following his love of fashion and a sense of freedom.

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Fashion show Haute Couture Spring -Sumpmer 1994 in Paris, France in January, 1994 - Paco Rabanne
Fashion show Haute Couture Spring -Sumpmer 1994 in Paris, France in January, 1994 - Paco Rabanne

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It wasn't until Rabanne reached his 30s, though, that he truly made fashion his full-time career, after working for other brands, starting with Elsa Schiaparelli. He turned the industry upside down with his futuristic space-age designs once he created his own fashion house, though he later told The New York Times that he didn't like to be classed as a "futurist." It was his 1966 show, called "Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials," that helped make him a name. His collection was made from metal and plastic and set the tone for what was to come from his work.

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As Rabanne continued to build his brand, he branched out into fragrance, releasing his first — and arguably most popular — scent in 1969, called Calandre. Alongside his fashion creations, he continued to work in fragrance, growing both of his businesses into worldwide brands.

Paco Rabanne works on an outfit in his Paris workshop
Paco Rabanne works on an outfit in his Paris workshop

Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Known for using unconventional materials and creating unusual silhouettes, Rabanne and his team worked with a number of celebrities throughout his career for some of the most memorable pieces of fashion. His fashion house famously created the green outfit that Jane Fonda wears in Barbarella in the 1960s and also created a look made out of paper for Lady Gaga to wear to the MTV Europe Awards in 2011.

Rabanne officially retired in 1999, according to Vogue, while his fashion house and fragrance businesses continued to build. Though the House of Paco Rabanne took a brief hiatus in the early 2000s, it relaunched in 2011 — just in time for Lady Gaga's iconic paper look for MTV and the continued support of celebrity looks, including Sabrina Carpenter's golden gown for the 2022 Met Gala.

Later in life, Rabanne was honored for his contributions to fashion, earning an Officer of the Legion d'Honneur in France title in 2010. He also opened an exhibition of his drawings — something he put much time and love into throughout his life — in Moscow in 2005.

Beyond being a creative visionary, Rabanne was also memorable as an eccentric man who made claims that he'd lived seven lives, that he'd seen God three times in three forms and whose memory reaches back 7,000 years, according to The New York Times. He was someone who wasn't afraid to speak out — both with words and with his designs. But above all, he wanted to use his creativity to show off the female form and make women feel exquisite.

"I do not want to have women with this ripped, deconstructed, pessimistic clothing," he told The New York Times in 2002 of advice his mother once gave him. "I want to create fashion for women to be beautiful, sexy and optimistic."