Rabanne was born in 1934 in the Spanish Basque Country. During the Spanish Civil War, soldiers of the future dictator Franco shot his father. His mother, a seamstress for the fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga, fled to France with little Paco and his three siblings in 1939, where she settled in Brittany.
Rabanne first studied architecture in Paris; instead of sketching buildings, he preferred to design clothing. "It quickly struck me that Parisian fashion designers were far too attached to the past," he later wrote in his memoirs. "That's why the idea of my own haute couture collection in the style of Dadaism grew in me, i.e. in the form of a provocation and revolt."
And so Rabanne shocked catwalk audiences in the mid-1960s with "experimental dresses made from contemporary materials" and - even a tad crazier - "unwearable dresses". It was also new that he added music to his fashion shows.
Instead of fabric, thread and needle, the Spanish rebel used metal, pliers and a soldering iron. His clothes made of reflective metal plates looked like a mixture of knight's armor and fish skin. Coco Chanel poked fun at the strange designs of "fashion's steelworker," as she called him.
Rabanne once said in an interview that while other fashion designers create extravagant shapes from classic textiles, he creates simple garments from unusual materials. "Who else could have persuaded Parisian women to want metal and plastic dresses," said José Manuel Albesa, head of Puig's fashion division.
Rabanne's dresses and film costumes have been worn by Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda and French singer Françoise Hardy, among others. To the dismay of the US fashion press, he was already working with black models in the 1960s.
His first perfume came onto the market in 1968 and bore the unattractive name "Radiator Grille" (Calandre). Since then, new fragrances have been added. The success of his perfume division enabled him to continue designing lavish haute couture collections.
Rabanne will also be remembered by many French people for his esoteric tendencies. In the late 1990s, he regularly disseminated his wacky ideas on TV shows: for 1999, he predicted the destruction of Paris by the crash of the Russian space station Mir - but later admitted that it was a miscalculation.
About 20 years ago, Rabanne returned to Brittany, where he grew up. "He was popular in town. He was an uncomplicated person who hasn't forgotten where he came from," said the mayor of Ploudalmézeau-Portsall, Marguerite Lamour, to the newspaper "Le Télégramme".