On Wednesday evening in Paris, the Spanish fashion house Paco Rabanne paid tribute to its namesake, who died last month at the age of 88. During a runway show staged at the city’s Musée d’Art Moderne, the fashion house sent out some 40 looks for its Fall 2023 ready-to-wear collection.
But a few looks stood out to eagle-eyed observers who recognized that five models came down the aisle donning floor-length dresses with paintings by the Spanish-French designer’s artistic peer and collaborator Salvador Dalí on them. (Rabanne’s affinity for Dalí might also have to do with his outré beliefs that included ascribing to mysticism and end-of-world theories peddled by Nostradamus and claiming to have lived multiple lives.)
First featured in the procession of five looks, all printed with scenes from Dali paintings he produced from the 1930s to 1950s, were Dali’s Sun-table (1935) and The Shades of Night Descending (1931). The former is owned by the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the latter comes from Dali’s “nostalgic landscapes” paintings and resides in a museum dedicated to the artist in St. Petersburg, Florida.
In another look, the Surrealist’s 1944 canvas Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening shows two tigers levitating in the sky over a sleeping nude women—said to represent Dali’s wife, Gala. That garment was followed by one invoking the artist’s 1958 painting Meditative Rose, in which a red rose floats against a desert horizon, one of its petals holds a single water droplet. The final of the five looks referencing Dalí showcased his 1946 painting Giant Flying Mocca Cup with an Inexplicable Five Metre Appendage.
Rabanne, who established his namesake house in the 1960s, was known for his unconventional approach to fashion. He went against the grain by minting what he termed “unwearable” dresses made of metal parts that were a response to the era of political liberation in which fashion needed to be “violent,” as he once told the New York Times. With these futuristic-inflected armored garbs fitted to women’s bodies, Rabanne made a name for himself as one of his generation’s most progressive designers. And in his runway shows since the ’60s, he featured Black models, a rarity at the time.
Two other looks in the Fall 2023 collection are less obvious references to Dalí, drawing from the artist’s jewelry designs. In one, a model wears a floor-length, long-sleeve dress in lavender; on her chest is a gold disc pierced by an arrow that is inspired by Dali’s 1953 diamond-and-18K-gold pendant dubbed The Bleeding World. In another, a gold ensemble with a jeweled red heart affixed to a model’s torso lifts the emblem from Dali’s 1949 ruby pin The Honey Comb Heart.
High-profile designers continue to take from avant-garde movements like Surrealism, according to Eugenia Paulicelli, a fashion historian at the CUNY Graduate Center. The era’s way of “breaking with past,” Paulicelli told ARTnews, maintains an unrelenting appeal to the fashion industry.
The ode to Dalí is one attempt for the house to pay tribute to Rabanne in the first runway show since his death. Dalí, who once dubbed Rabanne the only other “genius” (beside himself) working at the time in Spain, collaborated with the courtier in the 1960s. Around this time, the designer created some of his signature Space Age inflected dresses for an unrealized film that Dalí produced with Swiss photographer Jean Clemmer. The images, though lesser-known in Dalí’s oeuvre, were published in fashion spreads in American and British publications.
“Those are years when [Dalí’s] artistic activity is manifested mainly through happenings and performative actions,” Montse Aguer, director of the Dalí Museums, told ARTnews in an email.
These ties between Rabanne and Dali are well documented in archival materials that are housed by the Dalí-Gala foundation, which collaborated with Paco Rabanne on licensing and advised on imagery used for the Fall 2023 dresses.
Aguer added, “I think that Dalí’s interest in the designer is centered particularly on the modernity of the materials he uses, on the innovative spirit and on the aesthetics, which are very close to the painter’s tastes of the ‘60s.”