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The bag's ultra-modern design belies its age.

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What unites the subjects of this series is a sense of timelessness. The bags, watches, shoes and beauty products we call ‘heroes’ transcend seasons, years, decades, and, in the case of the Louis Vuitton trunk, centuries. When they debuted, they were revolutionary – objects from the future. And none is a better example of this than Paco Rabanne’s wonderfully space-age 1969 bag.

As its name suggests, Le 1969 is 54 years old, though its ultra-modern design belies its age. Constructed from interlinked metal discs, it was – and is – as much of a shimmering object d’art as it is a functioning bag. It was said to have been inspired by a butcher’s chainmail apron, with  a generous helping of sixties space-age futurism – and all perfectly engineered. It was hardly surprising, given Paco Rabanne’s architectural background. 

It was the 1950s and the Basque designer – who was born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo – was set for a career in architecture, studying the subject at Paris’s l'École Nationale des Beaux-Arts and going on to work with architect Auguste Perret (renowned for his use of reinforced concrete) for over a decade. This was all despite the fashion pedigree of his mother, who was a head seamstress at Cristóbal Balenciaga’s couture house, first in the Basque Country and then in Paris – where the family had relocated.

Eventually, the pull of fashion proved stronger than that of architecture. Come the early 1960s, Rabanne had started designing for couture houses including Givenchy and Nina Ricci outside of his regular job, becoming known for his beaded and metal cage pieces which, unsurprisingly, erred on the architectural. Around that time, he met and began designing bright, geometric-shaped plastic accessories for emerging Parisian designers including Michele Rosier and Emmanuelle Khanh – these proved to be a hit and got him noticed by American department store buyers.


Rabanne’s love for innovative construction methods and unusual and industrial postwar materials was becoming increasingly evident, setting him apart from couturiers like Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges, who, though futurist-leaning in their designs, opted for traditional techniques. Rabanne presented his first collection, ‘Twelve Experimental Dresses’, in 1964, followed by a second, named ‘Twelve Unwearable Dresses’, in 1966. Demonstrating his deft use of chainmail, aluminium and plastic, the collection was a breakout hit, and the designer was tapped to create the iconic, metallic costumes for 1968 sci-fi film, Barbarella.

Not everyone was impressed. ‘He’s not a couturier. He’s a metal worker,’ said Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. That didn’t stop Rabanne, who released his signature bag in 1969 – made of metal. Formed of the same, scale-like, steel discs as many of the dresses in his acclaimed collection and equipped with a toilet-flushing chain as a handle, Le 1969 was unlike any other bag that had been seen before. Immediately, it was adopted by the likes of Françoise Hardy and Brigitte Bardot. It didn’t have a logo, but it didn’t need one; that metalwork was undeniably Rabanne’s.

Rabanne has had a few successors since he retired from designing in 1999, but none have been as faithful at upholding the founder’s signature futurism as current Creative Director, Julien Dossena, who was appointed in 2013. Under his tenure, the 1969 bag was reissued some 50 years after it first shimmered onto the scene. Notably, the bag’s once heavy steel discs have been replaced by lighter aluminium pastilles – 367 of them to be exact (for the original size), each one painstakingly assembled by hand. The brand assures us that the ‘distinctive, familiar swish in sound and feel’ of the original has not been compromised by the innovation in materials.


As well as classic silver and gold, the 1969 is now available in a range of paintbox and pastel shades, with or without crystal embellishments, and in new silhouettes including the Moon and Ball – all equally shimmery. Modern-day fans include Kelela, Jemima Kirke, Sienna Miller and Emily Ratajowski, who wore a silver 1969 with multicoloured trousers and a white boob tube to celebrate her birthday earlier this month.

Paco Rabanne passed away in February of this year, but his most iconic bag lives on – shining, shimmering, splendid.

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