Even when given the task of reviving a heritage brand, Julien Dossena is focused on the future. It’s fitting, then, that the 31-year-old French designer has found a home as the creative director of Paco Rabanne—a house whose legendary founder, along with fellow Paris-based innovators Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges, pioneered the radically streamlined ’60s Space Age aesthetic while sculpting groundbreaking couture out of metal, synthetics, paper, and plastic.
Dossena’s strategy is to bring the recently flagging brand back to covetable relevancy. “I try not to bother with all of the archives,” Dossena explains. Instead, his intent is to take the subversive spirit of the retired 80-year-old Rabanne, whose vision of futurism was less Blade Runner, more Barbarella (Rabanne dressed star Jane Fonda in the maison‘s signature chain mail for the 1968 cult sci-fi film), and rework it for the 21st-century woman. “It was really a moment in France in the ’60s,” Dossena says. “It’s quite rare in Paris for a cultural brand to add that value of youth, modernity, and radicalism. I want to make Paco Rabanne a supermodern brand as it was at that time, with my own signature, of course.”
Enamored with publications like The Face and the work of Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela, Dossena left his childhood home in the western province of Brittany (“Fashion was not really happening there,” he says) to study art history in Paris and fashion at La Cambre de Bruxelles before securing a post at Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghesquière in 2008. Dossena left the Kering luxury group after Ghesquière departed in 2012. He started a new line, Atto, named for his father, and was tapped by the Puig Group for the creative director position at Rabanne after eight months of freelancing.
The fall 2014 collection, Dossena’s second for the house, focuses on “that balance between radically chic and day-to-day control and easiness,” he says, retooling chain mail into feather-light frocks engineered from constellations of safety pins layered over color-blocked dresses and sharply tailored separates, leather shells with laser-cut detailing, sporty V-necks in tech fabrics inserted with chunky zippers, and asymmetrical wrap skirts.
Dossena recently shuttered Atto, a finalist for the LVMH Young Designer Prize, to focus on the day-to-day operations at Rabanne, which is currently expanding into pre-collections, bags, and accessories—all the trappings of an international empire in the making. “We’re growing little by little,” he enthuses. “It’s the time for me to put Paco Rabanne on the map.”