Of the gobs of debates going on in fashion right now, there's only one rooted in a matter of taste: What is couture? Things aren’t what they used to be, what with additions to the bespoke schedule — some for business reasons, not for the art itself — and even a few T-shirts on the runway. However, there are a few designers who are more deserving of the couturier(e) title than they know. Take Julien Dossena, for example. Though new to neither the French maison of Paco Rabanne nor the world of ready-to-wear, he does, like the house's founder, possess the skills it takes to create clothes that straddle the worlds of art and commerce.
Another art institution, Visionaire, is a platform for all sorts of media (publishing, fashion, art, graphic design, music, film, and more) to come together in ways that live up to the root of its name: visionary. Much like Dossena was tasked to carry on the legacy of a man who defied any and all expectations set before him, Visionaire founders, Cecilia Dean and James Kaliardos also have never played by the rules. And thus, Visionaire’s latest video, showing Dossena and the Rabanne team in the atelier ahead of the label’s fall 2018 show, is an ingenious clash of fashion and art.
Dossena showed his latest collection for Paco Rabanne just a week ago to a warm reception. Unlike most creative directors du jour, he's not out to answer life's biggest questions with each showing. "Without having to say it [out loud], my beliefs are still there. For example, I don't like animals being killed for fur, so I don't use fur. I just don't market those thoughts because I don't really think they should be made for profit," he tells Refinery29, of his hesitancy to bring politics to the runway. "At the same time, as a guy, I can only propose what I think is good for women. Like, fashion tools for their day-to-day life, so that they feel comfortable and confident. But I will never speak for women because I don't want to steal their speech; they can express themselves."
As Dossena more or less keeps his head down and sticks to the work, his atelier is by his side — prying, twisting, clipping, snipping, and sculpting. In the video, the Visionaire team focuses on a dress that embodied all of what Dosenna has to say, the most iconic visuals of Rabanne's time, and how the brand’s designs empower women today. "It makes you appreciate clothing more than how we normally do,” Dean elaborates of the hands-on process documented. “You're in the atelier, you're watching these people put together garments for an upcoming fashion show, and they're using wire cutters and stamping machines. It's just a funny juxtaposition to what we consider to be the activities of a normal atelier versus the Paco Rabanne atelier."
Visionaire was purposeful in not showing sewing machines, fabrics, or any of the usual processes we equate with making ready-to-wear. Because showing Rabanne’s plastic, metal, polishing, and reflective discs is more fun — and even higher fashion than we’re used to seeing. The allure of a dress made famous by Audrey Hepburn in 1967 (or Jane Birkin, another Rabanne muse), and Dossena’s remaking of it today, goes to show that Rabanne — much like other fashion houses, and especially French couturiers — wasn't so much ahead of his time as his designs were timeless. And who Dossena projects his vision on today hasn't changed much, either.
"I love women, but I don't like to objectify them in a sense of saying, ‘Oh, I love this girl because she's beautiful.’ I don't like that. I admire women artists or women directors, or writers. I'm deeply touched by their work," Dossena explains. "But It's always difficult because I'm often asked this question [of who the Rabanne woman is]. I like actresses, too, but for their choices of movie and what they are engaged in, which would hopefully be politics. So, it really depends on their field, on what they express, and what they do that they actually love." A few of his inspirations, by the way, include Cindy Sherman, Marguerite Duras, Jane Campion, and more.
"If Julien is looking at women who are pursuing careers that add to people's lives as opposed to those that don't, then that's very much a sign of the times. But that could not be as common in 1968, during Paco Rabanne's time. There just weren't many women pursuing those kinds of careers on that level," Dean says, making one of the only clear distinctions between Rabanne and Dossena himself. "It's very telling of the 50 years that has gone by, that Julien can have those kinds of women as his muses, as opposed to models or socialites." In other words, it's his way of engaging in politics and keeping a storied brand current, all the while choosing not to chase trends.
There aren't many designers who step back and speculate, who choose to let the clothing speak for itself, who take their time with the finer details that ultimately set them apart from one another come showtime. "The goal is to capture the time and the feeling of that; we're at an interesting stage. I want women to desire clothes; a desire that you can't really control," he believes. That must be what makes Dossena such an enigma to study — and one that’s even more fascinating to watch.