Early Career

Rabanne's drawing skills made it possible for him to enter the world of fashion as early as 1955; indeed, to finance his architecture studies, he regularly supplied drawings of handbags for Roger Model and shoes for Charles Jourdan until 1963. In 1959 Women's Wear Daily published seven sketches of dresses signed "Franck Rabanne." Though this was the first time the designer's name appeared in public, he chose "Franck" because the number of letters in the first and last names totaled a lucky thirteen. (He did not begin using the name Paco professionally until 1965.) These dresses bore the imprint of the style of Balenciaga, whose work was familiar to the young Rabanne through his mother, a former chief seamstress in the master's workshop in San Sebastián in Spain.

Rabanne put his artistic gifts and the skills of his family to good use between 1962 and 1966: together they hand-produced unusual buttons and embroideries for the houses of haute couture. His clients at the time included Nina Ricci, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Maggy Rouff, Philippe Venet, Pierre Cardin, and Hubert de Givenchy.

In 1965, Rabanne's creation of oversized rhodoïd jewelry in various geometric forms and bright colors brought him his first major commercial and media success. It also established one of the principles of his style: the use of rigid divisible materials held together by metallic rings or rivets.

Paco Rabanne's first show took place on 1 February 1966 at the Hotel George V. This collection, which the designer called "Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials," was worn by barefoot models parading to the sounds of Pierre Boulez's Le marteau sans maître, which Rabanne chose to reflect modernity and to shock the audience. It was a veritable fashion manifesto and helped to establish Rabanne's reputation as a revolutionary. On 21 April 1966, the dancers of the celebrated Parisian cabaret, the Crazy Horse Saloon, presented Rabanne's collection of beachwear made of rhodoïd disks or leather. The dancers modeled the unconventional clothes in the form of a strip tease, creating another scandal. Rabanne also set up his workshop in 1966 at 33, rue Bergère, with a black décor accented with industrial scaffolding and bicycle seats for chairs.

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