All that glitters: Meet the duo behind H&M’s newest designer collaboration

8 November 2023
By Amberley Colby

Invited to collaborate on H&M’s latest accessible high-fashion collection, Rabanne comes to the party.

Fresh off the back of their most recent designer collaboration with Mugler, H&M is kickstarting the festive season with the release of their sparkly new collection created with Rabanne. Though the luxury fashion house was first started by iconic Spanish designer Paco Rabanne, who revolutionised the industry with his avant-garde space-age designs, the label’s legacy now lives on under the creative direction of Julien Dossena, who has worked closely with H&M on the new collection. In celebration of the line’s global release, FQ caught up with both Dossena and Ann-Sofie Johansson, the creative advisor at H&M, to find out more about the scintillating partnership.

Julien Dossena and Ann-Sofie Johansson.

Q+A with Ann-Sofie Johansson:

Congratulations on your exciting new collaboration! What drew you to partner with Rabanne on this one?

Thank you! Like I always say, we have a wish list at H&M of dream designers and brands we’d love to work with, and Julien Dossena and Rabanne have been on it for a while. Rabanne is one of those rare brands with iconic status in fashion thanks to its impeccable heritage: the founder Paco Rabanne was the master of metal, and those fabulous metallic chainmail dresses spring to mind immediately. In the 10 years that Julien has been working at Rabanne, it was clear he was on a brilliant trajectory, re-energising its extraordinary legacy while at the same time making collections that are cool, modern and relevant for today’s audience. We began the conversation with the Rabanne team about 18 months ago, and it’s been a very exciting and instructive experience for both teams.

Tell us a bit about the collaboration process. How much input did you both have to the

We always try to give designers as much freedom to express their ideas as possible, so we asked Julien to come up with a design proposal. On our second meeting, he presented his idea for a
collection loosely inspired by a glamorous 1970s pool party – like a Helmut Newton photograph – with lots of incredible evening-wear offset with swimwear and leisurewear. We loved it straight away. The idea was very strong and clear from the beginning, so the design process, which went back and forth between the two teams in Paris and Stockholm, was pretty straight-forward. We met in Paris a few times, first to go through the initial proposal, then fittings, along the way collaborating with our sustainability and product development teams to push our suppliers to develop new innovations for materials. Both teams were excited to learn from each other, to share ideas and solutions, and to bring together a wide-ranging collection with some extraordinary pieces. From our side, it was a dream collaboration.

Any stories or highlights you would like to share from the collaboration process with Julien?

Not only is Julien a visionary designer and a lovely person, but I’m really in awe of his time-management skills! He has a very decisive vision, for sure, but he is also incredibly organised. He
really thinks about his customer, which is something that aligns very well with H&M, as we always put our customer first. And I was really struck by his generosity, wanting to share Rabanne’s icons with us for this collection, for which we were very grateful. The best collaborations are the ones where you learn from each other, and that was certainly the case here. That we laughed a lot and genuinely had fun putting it together was just the icing on the cake.

 Why should people purchase a piece from this collection?

We’re really proud of this collection because it’s truly packed with pieces of fashion history. These are iconic designs that bring to mind Françoise Hardy, Audrey Hepburn in Two For The Road, and of course all the modern ‘it’ girls today that are still loving Rabanne designs. The chainmail mesh pieces are particularly exciting, because we managed to make them from a mix of recycled and conventional metal, without compromising on the shine and quality of the originals. It’s something Rabanne has been trying to do for a long time in-house, so it’s really exciting that we’ve finally achieved it. But in addition to all the statement party-wear, there are so many versatile everyday pieces that are made to be cherished for years to come. I really feel there’s something for everyone.

What is your favourite piece/s from the collection and why?

I love all the house icons, the metallic mesh dress, and the sequin pailette dresses and accessories, but for myself personally, I have my eye on the silver metallic suit. I’m looking forward to wearing it with a white T-shirt for party season.

Q+A with Julien Dossena:

What was your interest or motivation in collaborating with H&M?

Lots of people approach us for collaborations, but I gave the proposal from H&M a lot of thought. It’s true that Rabanne creates luxury fashion that is highly conceptual, that champions exceptional
craftsmanship, and that – I must admit – is sometimes difficult to find. I really liked the idea of
democratising Rabanne, so that more people would be able to wear an iconic piece of high design for a more accessible price. I remember being a young fashion student, and the feeling of getting access to legendary design from these ground-breaking brands – Comme des Garçons, Versace, Maison
Margiela – was so exciting. I was really inspired by the H&M collaborations where house icons were made available for a wider audience, particularly the Versace collection. That’s what ultimately convinced me to accept the proposal.

Paco Rabanne has recently rebranded to Rabanne. How has your design direction changed since this transition and how are you infusing it into this collection?

Well, it’s been 10 years since I started working at Rabanne, time goes so fast! We worked on a new
graphic chart when I arrived, and it was the right time to update the name and the logo. We have
explored so many different things over the last 10 years, that it was good to have a new graphic
identity that could encompass everything that we express now. I wanted something a little bit more classic, a little bit less 1970s, and to simplify things a bit with the name. We are in a new era of the brand, expanding into new categories like beauty, and it’s a really exciting time.

Tell us a bit about the collaboration process. How did you and H&M work together to create affordable pieces that still retain the Rabanne DNA?

We had our first meeting in Paris about 18 months ago, and we discussed what they liked about our brand, and what they wanted to achieve with the collaboration. They gave me a lot of creative
freedom, so I came up with the loose proposal for a 1970s pool party, a kind of Helmut Newton vibe, where people are in an infectiously good mood, some in the pool, playing cards around the edge. I wanted that mood of instinctive fun, as well as a balance of radical design and effortlessness. I have a very pragmatic side to my character, and I want my clothes to be easy to wear. When we developed pieces for this collection, we included some house icons as I mentioned, because I felt that was really important, and we also made sure there was some elevated loungewear, and some amazing daywear, the pieces you will wear every day. That balance is very important and I hope it means that everyone can find something they love.

What was your inspiration for this collection? Do you have any silhouettes or signature styles that you have repurposed?

I think I answered this above! But I can add that I was very clear from the beginning that I wanted to propose a lifestyle, rather than just a few pieces. The addition of the H&M Home capsule was great, because it allowed me to design objects for the first time, and to build out a world for the Rabanne ready-to-wear and accessories. I imagined some scenarios, for example, a woman in paillette silver
top, switching out her paillette skirt for tracksuit pants and pool slides when the party is winding down, getting out a deck of cards from the metallic silver case and playing games by the side of the pool. The mood is relaxed and fun.

Were there any technical or aesthetic challenges you faced in making high fashion

The pieces I am most proud of are the metallic mesh designs, because the material is something the production team at H&M worked so hard on. I was very clear from the beginning that I wanted to observe best practice in all the pieces, and to have very high qualities. We have been trying for many years to develop a more sustainable version of the metallic mesh, and H&M managed to achieve a material that was a blend of recycled and conventional metal, which had the shine and durability of the original. It’s a proud moment and a lesson we can take forward in the future.

The H&M x Rabanne collection is available to purchase now exclusively at H&M’s Commercial Bay in Auckland.

Imagery: supplied.


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