Paco Rabanne's creative director discusses the importance of a wardrobe, not just showpieces during a London trip
Dressed in the new SS13 season, Lydia Maurer exudes the same confidence as her designs. "Where could I bring Paco Rabanne? The brand already had such a strong identity, but that was always directly connected to the 60s," she says. The task of reviving a brand remembered in such a singular manner was never going to be an easy one. Its relaunch in 2005, with Patrick Robinson at the helm steered too wayard of the brand's DNA, whilst successor Manish Arora made a faithful, if almost too religious interpretation. Arora's exit after two seasons made way for the young Maurer to express her own ideas within a strong brand framework, and if the house was always about a man's vision of his ideal woman – the extraordinary superhuman – Maurer held a possible key to a relevant resuscitation. Bringing a lighter, more sensual edge, her debut struck a comfortable note between her two predecessors.
Using classic Paco Rabanne signposts, fluidity and soft femininity have been segued into the house's vocabulary. The "69" disc for instance, was reproduced in silicon and made into guipure lace. In other places, the metal discs were hammered and assembled into mini sculptures twisted with mesh and silicon; its symbolic meaning difficult to miss. Wearability and design strength more so than showmanship is what the 29-year-old designer, coming by way of Givenchy, Rue du Mail and Yves Saint Laurent, is determined to use to revive Paco Rabanne into a veritable fashion business.
Dazed Digital: What were the inspirations and what were you determined to show in your debut season?
Lydia Mauer: I started working on an imaginary past of Paco Rabanne, thinking of what might have been his influences rather than formally looking at his references. César Baldaccini, the compression sculptor who worked with a lot of different metals and stones made these 3D patchwork objects had an interesting approach to assembling, which is also very Paco Rabanne. There's still a very rock vibe to it that audacious women like Françoise Hardy and Jane Birkin encapsulated for him in the 60s. Richard Prince's photobook Girlfriends had an authenticity I wanted to use, so it's not the in-your-face 'rock chic' that you'd find on high street nowadays. The pictures Mr. Rabanne worked on with Jean Clemmer in Canned Candies, of beautiful nude women wearing these heavy metal ornaments and looking like in ecstasy were also a huge inspiration. There was nothing vulgar about it and that's one of the main things I wanted to stay away from. That mixed together with Marisa Berenson, the epitome of the very sweet beauty, well I think is a very contemporary woman right there!
DD: There must be a huge archive you have access to; have you discovered elements that have an effect on what you're doing with the house today?
Lydia Mauer: I feel that Mr Rabanne always wanted to elevate woman to be more beautiful and stronger, these superhumans, without being vulgar. That's a very different approach to doing sexy in the way that Italians usually do, but as a French brand, 'sexy' tends to perhaps be classier and more bourgeois. He also never really worked on a whole collection in one way; he'd made very singular, special pieces. It didn't make sense for me to make a collection from one dress. I decided to start with the materials he was obsessed with – the chainmail, the "69" disc and the metal mesh. Also he never worked on lace in the way we did, in that it never really connected to his imagery. Today we really want to focus on what the codes are to bring out a more feminine side to the brand.
DD: How did you develop the shapes? There were few shift dresses, one of his favourite silhouettes...
Lydia Mauer: Yes I was looking at some of his old sketches and him being a trained architect, he was doing all these ideas of working with triangles, which resulted in the Kite collection that I found very interesting. So I wanted to really find new, different triangle shapes in the pieces for this season.
DD: What is your vision for Paco Rabanne – how do you plan to update the brand so it is current?
Lydia Mauer: I'd really like this spirit of Paco Rabanne from the 60s to be pertinent today – so that the clothes will be worn on the streets, as that is the only way we can exist in the future. That's the most important thing for me that I want to push. I need to make it easier to wear, with daywear and knit pieces, so it will carry the more extravagant pieces its heritage is known for. Whilst I'll keep the eccentric showpieces, I want to create a real wardrobe for women. My main focus is to bring it to a place where people can identify an image of Paco Rabanne and understand it, without the design having to be in metal.
DD: Mr Rabanne also worked closely with 60s 'It' girls. Who's the 21st century Paco Rabanne girl?
Mauer: She's definitely much less daring than the girls he used to dress. There's a chance with people like Daphne Guinness that this woman still exists, but women nowadays want clothes that are empowering but also easier and lighter to wear. What I love about Daphne is that she wears these extravagant pieces with such pleasure.
DD: What attracted you to fashion?
Lydia Maurer: I was never into magazines. It was more of a textural and manual approach. I'm always interested in collages, I used to cut my parents' clothes to steal bits of fabrics that I loved, and make new fabrics out of them.
DD: And how would you describe your approach to design?
Lydia Mauer: Instinctively I'm very much into the touch of things, but I also love drawing and I need to see the silhouette and attitude. Being a woman, I think it makes a difference to try and wear these things and see how you'd move in them.
Catwalk photography courtesy of Paco Rabbane