Designer Julien Dossena worked in the studio with Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga for four years before his appointment as the artistic director of Paco Rabanne in 2013. Charged with reviving the retro brand, the 35-year-old Frenchman has since successfully translated the line’s ultra-modern heritage into a womenswear wardrobe for today, featuring desirable, sportswear-inspired ready-to-wear and accessories.
When Dossena is not working in the maison’s design studio in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, he works from home in his spacious Haussmannian apartment located on the outskirts of the Marais. Overlooking a busy boulevard that meets the the trendy, albeit grungy, 11th arrondissement, the apartment boasts a fortunate corner position that sees it flooded with natural light for most of the day.
While the building’s architecture is traditional, Dossena has furnished the space sparsely in his signature style of minimalism, with ‘1980s Italian and French collector’s items in a mostly monochromatic palette. The environment reflects his own sartorial uniform of a well-cut black Prada Tt-shirt and dark blue jeans, which he wears for our interview today while dragging on a cigarette.
How long have you lived here for?
Oh, it is quite recent. I moved in here in January, so only six months. Before this I was in a modern, let's say ‘60s building, and it was a duplex flat with a lot of glass windows. It was nice, but it was more like a party flat [laughs].
Your living room is round, that’ is quite unusual!
Yes, it's not easy to furnish, but these curved sofas work. They are French from the ‘60s, ‘70s.
Do you ever work from home?
Yes, I try to work from home at least one day a week. I work from this desk. It’ is nice in here with the sun coming through the window. I play music. I can have like meetings with my team. They come and work here, too.
It's striking. Who designed it?
It's by Alessandro Mendini, from the Alchimia period. It’ is from the 1988 series called Ollo that I love—the table and those chairs. That was my first buy, about six, seven years ago in Italy.
So you like the Italians? What is it about their style that appeals?
I don't know. I love the directness: like it’s one idea, and one idea applied radically, but at the same time, the item is always functional.
I noticed you have an exercise room.? That shows serious commitment.
Yes, I do yoga every day, and I have a rowing machine. I began vVinyasa yoga, five or six years ago, and I was not a sports guy, but I just fell in love with it. I was lucky with my teacher—it was a match. Now I try to practise every day, even when I'm travelling. And, you know, the more you do it, the more you need to do it.
Are you a very disciplined person?
I try to be. When I think about my overall lifestyle, I feel I have to do this: to have balance. I work long hours, and at some point, you should have time for you. Also, I love to party, and I love to go out with friends. So I work hard and party hard, and I also need quiet time alone to think.
Are you from Paris originally?
No. I am from a very small fishing town in Brittany.
Do you go back there often?
Yes, I was there last weekend. My family still lives there: —my grandfather is still there, and my mother is around, and my father. I stay with my grandfather, and it’ is nice;, we share moments, you know, like listening to the radio in the morning and having breakfast together. I have a lot of childhood memories there, so going back is good. I’m going there this in the summer to do a surf camp.
Are you good at surfing?
I was when I was like 14 or 15. But it’s been a long time, so I’ll have to tell you how I go after the summer.
I don't see the seaside in your work; I find your aesthetic to feel more urban. Is that fair?
Yes, but I moved a lot with my mother when I was younger. I lived in the suburbs of Paris when I was seven. Then she like took me to Berlin when I was nine for three years, from 1991 to 1994.
Berlin would have been interesting then, just after the wall came down.…
It was just after the wall, yes, so there was still nothing — like everything was destroyed in the eEast. So I think my aesthetic grew from that contrast between the seaside and different urban environments. After Berlin, I went in to the south of France.…
You moved a lot. Was that hard?
It was fine. You get used to it, you know?. As a child, you have to be flexible. Every time you’re are the new guy every time, and that is okay. At 17, I came back to Paris to study. I studied art history for one year, but it was not what I wanted to do, because I missed drawing. I always drew. Maybe that's what drove me to fashion at some point.
What were you drawing when you were younger?
Anything.… I was like every child: I did animals, then I did boats, houses, and then I went slowly to bodies and characters, and then from characters to women and then fashion. I also thought that the fashion business would be good for me to work in because I was a bit hyperactive as a teenager, so I wanted to find a job where I could work on many different things. With my role, there is the business side, photography, image, volume, drawing — everything. F So fashion is interesting in the sense that it mixes so many disciplines.
What does your family think of your fashion career?
I don’t talk to them about it much because when I go home, it’s my place to not talk about fashion, you know?.
But they are interested?
Yes, but it can be really difficult to explain, so I just say, 'Let’s talk about your baby, or your health, or let’s just go and buy some oysters’. It’s a break for me there. So it is might be hard for them because they really want to know, but I just say, ‘I’ am just drawing clothes, and I do a show with girls walking to music and people come to see that show to buy the collection, or write reviews. And that is quite easy…’.
But it’ is not an easy business. So you play it down?
Of course not, but I don’t want them to...
Yes, and I don’t want to bore them. It’ is always difficult to create a boundary between work and personal life. Even with friends, I don’t talk much about fashion. Some of them work in fashion so obviously we do. B, but most of them don’t, and I want to keep that separate. I… because if not, you just end up with people that who are there because they’ are your friends but also because you’ are a designer. You know, iIt’ is a really rich industry in the sense of conversations and debate and all the possibilities, but at the same time, it can be narrow.
Yes, I totally agree. We all need other interests. Back to your drawing habits, do you sketch all of your designs today?
Not every design;, it depends, b. But I like to do as many as I can because I enjoy the gesture. You know, aA good bottle of wine, and I can draw for hours. Drawing is also an escape because when I’m drawing, I’m super happy because I know that I can search for ideas.
Are you more most productive at night or in the morning?
At night, definitely: I am not a morning guy.
Would you ever venture into menswear?
I would love to, but not yet because we’ are at the stage where we need to completely focus on womenswear. But it would make sense because Paco Rabanne could be a masculine brand and in the men's market—, there is so much to propose and to figure out. There are a lot of guys going to the shop and buying the women's clothes.
And how do you feel about where the business ist at right now? It’s been five years.
It’s nice to see the evolution and then just step back and look at what could be better, what I have to change, what is working well, those kinds of things. So it is another interesting step.
So are you looking forward to the future? What changes are you going to make or where do you want to take the label?
It is kind of in process. It is about the team and how we can be more efficient. We want to open another store;, we have just the one boutique in Paris, and we want to increase the digital side of things.… It’s about those kinds of business decisions and how we can further engage ourselves in the work.
Do you like working across all aspects of the business?
Yes, that is what is interesting: that global vision. Because, the way I handle the business is also another expression of the brand. The position that you we take with the brand is so important in understanding where we want to go.
Where do you find most of your ideas?
I guess life in general, by observing people’s behaviour around me: what people have to face in everyday life and the tools they need. Good design, to me, is trying to find a balance between aesthetics and accessibility.
You have a lot of magazines and books. Why do you keep them on the floor?
Because I have no space for books anymore, and I don't want shelves everywhere.
Is this a book by Gérard Depardieu?
Yes. It’ is quite interesting, actually.
Yes, because the writing is naïive and at the same time super sensitive. It’ is a collection of letters that he wrote to the people who made an impact on his life. For example, like the actor Patrick Dewaere , who committed suicide, and the Italian director Marco Ferreri.
You're quite the minimalist with when it comes to furniture.
At first I had nothing, like only a mattress on the floor. — I quite liked it; , you know, I’ am not like obsessed with collecting or having things . A— and then I began to buy pieces one -by -one.
What do you look for, then, when buying something?
It's nothing in particular. I like to be surprised and am always looking for that balance between what I need and the sensitivity of the designer.
And no artwork on the walls? Why is that?
No artwork, because, you know, every time I find an artwork I want it’ is too expensive. So, for now, I prefer to invest in furniture. Plus, I don't like it to be decorative. For example, I already find this too furnished. I like space. I like it when you can just be cool and sit on the floor. Life is easier without possessions.
What does home represent to you?
It is like my nest. I feel super happy here. Sometimes I just wake up and feel I have finally found the space that I love, you know?. I've moved around a lot in Paris because, as I told you, as a child, I was always moving as a child. So every three years, I still feel I need to move from place to place.
You feel like you have inherited that?
I guess, yes, but it is nourishing. Each time, it’ is a different chapter in your life, even aesthetically. I always love that. A, and, for me, it’ is also about freedom because you are never attached to anything. So that is why, even here, if I wanted to buy this space it doesn't wouldn’t mean that I would was going to stay living there. It’ is just because it is like a wide classic box that I find interesting, in terms that. The proportions and size make it perfect for me.
But you're not necessarily attached?
No, not at all. My father taught me that. He always said, ‘Be as light as you can... You’ are not grounded by what you own; you are grounded by who you are’.