Julien Dossena and Adèle Exarchopoulos on Titanic, Bowie, and wild boars
The brilliant mind behind Paco Rabanne sits down with friend and collaborator Exarchopoulos for a meandering conversation about creativity
Adèle Exarchopoulos exploded onto our screens as the troubled protagonist in Blue is the Warmest Colour back in 2013, and has continued to blow audiences away with her honest, intimate performances in the time since. Most recently, the Paris-based actor dipped her toe into fashion, as Julien Dossena cast her as the face of Paco Rabanne for AW21. Driving around the French countryside in a vintage Jaguar, dressed in a confection of Dossena’s modern designs, the final film is a far cry from what the day on set looked like, as the crew dodged downpours and worried about wild boars turning up (yes, really).
Exarchopoulos and Dossena’s relationship goes far deeper than just professional, though. Meeting through friends at “a pretty low-key, casual Sunday night dinner”, the two hit it off from the start. Exarchopoulos is profoundly straight-talking and true to herself, says Paco’s creative director, while the actor describes Dossena as being completely without judgement: “He’s the kind of person I can tell anything, which is very rare nowadays. We have great, very real conversations,” she explains.
It made sense, then, to sit the two of them down for a conversation about early fashion inspirations, their ultimate style icons, and the advice they’d give their 13-year-old self were they to come face-to-face with them – as well as their fave films and their biggest fashion faux-pas.
Okay, so first of all – how did you two meet?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: I knew Julien through friends – a lot of people I love know and love Julien as a human being, and of course I knew his work.
Julien Dossena: I remember we met in a restaurant at this pretty low-key, casual Sunday dinner, and I immediately loved her. She’s very true to herself, which I love in a person. She’s very open with her feelings and very loyal.
And then you ended up working together on the AW21 campaign. Julien, what made you think Adèle would make an amazing Paco Rabanne woman?
Julien Dossena: Adèle is the most incredible actress. I’m always blown away by her talent, and the way she chooses her parts. She really embodies that femininity I’m deeply touched by – she has this amazing sensuality about her, and she’s very genuine. The way she goes through life, by letting life guide the way. She’s such an embodiment of the strong femininity I want to capture at Paco.
“There’s always something really chic about Paco, but at the same time it’s super modern. The last collection made me feel bossy and feminine at the same time, which I really like. It lets my personality shine through” – Adèle Exarchopoulos
And the film ended up being really beautiful! Adèle, what was it like being on set?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: So to be honest, it was quite funny because we had only one day to shoot the campaign. Sometimes in this industry there can be this fake ‘family’ vibe on set, but this one was very warm – everyone was super chill and happy to be there, it had great energy. We went out into the countryside and I was driving around in this old Jaguar. It was all a bit ‘Did I take mushrooms or is this really happening?’ We had this typical Parisian grey weather, though, and suddenly we got really freaked out eating sushi in the middle of the forest that there might be… what is Pumba in The Lion King?
Julien Dossena: Oh, you mean a wild boar?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: Exactly (laughs).
But you managed to come out unscathed, which is good news. Adèle, what do you like about wearing Paco Rabanne clothes?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: For me, fashion is about education, about elegance, and how it makes you feel. There’s always something really chic about Paco, but at the same time it’s super modern. The last collection made me feel bossy and feminine at the same time, which I really like. It lets my personality shine through. I never feel like I’m shitting on myself, you know? Sometimes you’ll wear something and you’ll be like ‘Yeah it’s beautiful, but it’s not really me’. I never feel like that in Paco, which is how clothes should be.
And Julien, you recently made your runway return with your AW22 collection at PFW. Did you miss IRL shows? Are you excited to be back?
Julien Dossena: So excited. I really missed the community. It’s quite selfish maybe, but I love to show live. The appreciation and understanding of the clothes at a live catwalk show is totally different. So I’m super happy to be back showing in Paris, in my city that I love, with all my friends and the people I care about there. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved making films – it’s been great to express myself in a different way.
Do you have someone in mind when you design?
Julien Dossena: I’m surrounded by amazing women 24/7 – friends, of course, and the women I work with. I’m inspired by the way they live, the different aspects of their personalities. I really find my inspiration in just observing them. Do they have a kid? Where do they go on vacation, where do they go to have fun? I’m always thinking about different scenarios the Paco woman could be in. I want to give them clothes that empower them, that bring them joy.
Adèle, have you ever walked the runway?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: No, I’ve never done it. Maybe in my dreams. But I don’t know if I would have the confidence. Everything is possible, but to be honest, I think I’d get quite shy!
“I love seeing people with a lot of personality on the catwalk, and casting friends or women that inspire me alongside professional models. The way Margiela and even Mugler did back in the day” – Julien Dossena
No way! How does that differ from going onto a set to act, then?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: I mean, at many fashion shows it’s all about keeping your body and face neutral so the clothes are the focus, and I just don’t think I’d be good at that. It’s also such a different environment. I grew up not really knowing anything about fashion – my mother is a nurse, and my dad had different jobs. I suppose creating a collection and having a show is similar to cinema in some ways – all the small, important hands that come together to create something magic.
Julien Dossena: I love seeing people with a lot of personality on the catwalk, though, and casting friends or women that inspire me alongside professional models. The way Margiela and even Mugler did back in the day. But I understand where Adèle is coming from, it’s super scary stepping out onto the runway. Even for me to take a bow at the end of the show. I get really shy, too.
Julien, what was it like to go into the Paco archives for the first time? Were you like a kid in a sweet shop?
Julien Dossena: I actually didn’t go in for a really long time! I didn’t want to be too influenced by the DNA of the brand. I thought it would be better to go rogue with the values rather than references. I restrained myself a lot. But when I actually went in, it was like a fun fair. Discovering all these amazing pieces, these different techniques, Paco’s artistry and personal expression. What touched me most was his creative mind. There was such an intimacy to touching everything and feeling his legacy.
What was your first experience of fashion, or an early moment you realised its power?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: I think the first time I realised fashion could be about freedom, and political too, was when I saw Princess Diana’s looks. The ‘revenge’ dress, the big pullovers and cycling shorts. I was super young at the time, but I still think about her a lot.
Julien Dossena: Like Adèle, I don’t come from a family that knows about fashion, and I’m from a tiny little town in the West of France, so it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I first became interested. I suppose it was when I started going to rave parties when I was a teen, skating, surfing… At that moment, I realised there was a culture of belonging through clothes. I had my Quiksilver sweater, Vans shoes, same as everyone else in the community. And then I eventually discovered magazines and fashion through them. I loved British mags – The Face, Dazed, all those ones that mixed high fashion with youth culture. I recognised myself and my friends on the pages, and it’s how I really honed my taste.
Adèle, how did you dress in school? Do you have any dodgy looks you regret?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: Some days I’d take risks by, like, wearing my pyjamas to school, some days I’d wear a pair of jeggings with heeled boots. I loved to find boyish ways of wearing clothes. Every teen goes through some difficult moments with fashion, and a lot of my looks weren’t so good (laughs). Any looks I regret. The jeggings with the boots! It’s cool when you’re Jennifer Lopez, but not on teenage me. But all those 00s looks are coming back – maybe I need to try again?
“I think the first time I realised fashion could be about freedom, and political too, was when I saw Princess Diana’s looks. The ‘revenge’ dress, the big pullovers and cycling shorts. I was super young at the time, but I still think about her a lot” – Adèle Exarchopoulos
I mean, speaking as someone who also dipped their toe into jeggings, I personally think they should stay in the past for sure. But next question: who do you consider style icons?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: Rihanna. She takes so many risks. I love her. And (Princess) Diana, in that famous black dress.
Julien Dossena: So this is probably super gay of me, but I love Cher’s looks from the 60s and 70s, she looked amazing – the hair, the way she embraced her sensuality, and even though her clothes were quite costume-like, they never wore her. Elton John, too. He wasn’t scared to go super crazy and embrace colour. And David Bowie. Every time I see him, in every era, he just exudes so much personality in what he wears. There is no one like him.
What’s your favourite piece in your wardrobe? Or, like, what would you save clothes-wise were your home on fire?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: Oh I’m so basic – my jeans. I live in my baggy Evisu jeans and a white t-shirt.
Julien Dossena: I’d probably be the same – I’d go for something with lots of memories attached, as opposed to something super flamboyant. The piece that reminds you of a love affair, or a super fun party, or travelling. It would probably be jeans for me, too. It’s so hard to find a good pair, they’re worth saving (laughs).
“A movie I love is The Piano – it’s so full of these magnificent landscapes but it’s really austere at the same time. Adèle would play Holly Hunter’s role. It’s one of the most sensual films I’ve ever seen. It’s really beautiful” – Julien Dossena
Adèle, how important is clothing when you’re getting into character?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: It’s one of the most important things. It can be so subtle, and take a really long time to figure out, but then all of a sudden, you’ll put the look on and you’re transformed. It’s usually quite a collaborative effort – I was once playing an air hostess, and ended up working my own clothes into the costumes. It wasn’t really working, and then it just felt right. But most of the time I trust who I work with. I love when people defend their opinion and don’t just say yes or no to make you feel comfortable.
Okay, say an iconic movie is being remade. Adèle, you’re starring, and Julien, you’re doing the costumes. What are you choosing?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: Pretty Woman in full Paco Rabanne, no question (laughs).
Julien Dossena: A movie I love is The Piano – it’s so full of these magnificent landscapes but it’s really austere at the same time. Adèle would play Holly Hunter’s role. It’s one of the most sensual films I’ve ever seen. It’s really beautiful.
On that note – and kind of off topic, but I’m nosy – what’s your fave film?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: I know it’s cheesy, but I could watch Titanic over and over again. Every time I see it I cry my eyes out like it’s the first time – like, why am I crying for these two people that just met hours ago. I also love American History X.
Julien Dossena: Oh, The Godfather trilogy. I can watch all three, one after the other. And also West Side Story.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Julien Dossena: I find it everywhere, just in daily life.
Adèle Exarchopoulos: Observation of moments, of people. I couldn’t do what I do if I had no curiosity about other humans.
Julien Dossena: And often it’s not about a particular thing, it’s more a question of timing. You might see a piece of art and think nothing of it, and then see it again under different circumstances and it will resonate. It’s all about being in the present, for me.
How do you feel like the way you each create overlaps?
Adèle Exarchopoulos: I think we both create with integrity, which I know is a shit answer and a bit pretentious, but it’s true (laughs).
Okay last question. Say you were face-to-face with your 13-year-old self. What advice or words of wisdom would you impart on them?
Julien Dossena: Trust life!
Adèle Exarchopoulos: It’s a cliche, but I wouldn’t want to change anything. Don’t have any regrets, maybe. That’s a sentence I understand now. Time heals everything – ghosts, scars, memories. Anything you think you can’t overcome, you eventually will. Seriously.