Wacko Paco

Real Lives

It's all there, in black and white, in the 10th quatrain of the 72nd centurio: during the solar eclipse of August 11 1999, the space station Mir will fall like an avenging angel from the skies, laying waste to Paris, City of Light, and wreaking grievous collateral havoc on some select and highly sought-after real estate in the southwest of France.

Thus spake Michel de Nostre-Dame, the 16th-century French seer better known as Nostradamus. Or at least, thus spake Michel de Nostre-Dame if you listen to the fashion designer, parfumier and multi-millionaire inventor of the all-metal miniskirt, Francisco Rabaneda-Cuervo, better known as Paco Rabanne.

According to the Basque-born haute couturier who for good measure also believes that, having been around for a little over 78,000 years, he is now experiencing his final life on earth, and that that's just as well because the antichrist is alive and well and living in London it's really quite simple.

"Mir in Russian means peace," he explains in his cheerful new book, 1999: Fire From Heaven. "Nostradamus talks a lot about peace and also, on page 109, about 'l'onde mur', the wall-like wave. If you invert the 'u' in 'mur', you get 'n', and capital 'N' in Russian is pronounced 'I'. So 'mur' = 'mnr' = MNR = 'Mir'."

Apocalyptic visions, of course, are not the sole preserve of eccentric fashion designers. James Ussher (1581-1656), the Archbishop of Armagh, calculated that the world would end on October 22 1996, while Aleister Crowley predicted curtains in April 1997. Sister Marie Gabriel, a Polish nun, foresaw a "cosmic explosion" as the headline event for July 16 1994, and America is peppered with sects awaiting the final triumph of the forces of evil.

Nor, as it happens, is this wacko Paco's first venture into cosmic cataclysmology. Back in 1994, his best-selling Has The Countdown Begun? confidently predicted Armageddon sometime around 1996. But so convinced is he of the accuracy of his predictions this time that he has made arrangements to be absent from Paris and the southwest in early August.

If the world-weary French capital is taking the would-be soothsayer's latest musings with a pinch of salt, the hitherto peaceful southwestern region of Gers is not so amused. According to Rabanne, at least five towns and villages in this unspoiled but increasingly desirable holiday destination are likely to be devastated by extraterrestrial debris come August 11.

The mayor of one of the threatened towns, Condom, told the local paper, in a tongue-in-cheek way, that he is quietly confident it will offer more than adequate protection to its inhabitants. But the chairman of the regional council, Philippe Martin, is determined not to take such an unwarranted attack on the area lying down.

"In our Sunday paper, Paco Rabanne, who is undoubtedly a better couturier than he is a prophet, let it be known that the fall of the orbital space station Mir would entrain the entire or partial destruction of large parts of this wonderful area," he said in an angry statement.

"At a time when tourism professionals and the whole of the population are gearing up to welcome a multitude of summer visitors to Gascony, this dire prediction cannot go unanswered. In consequence, and in the name of the community I have the honour to represent, I have decided to launch legal proceedings against Mr Rabanne for knowingly distributing false information likely to do irreparable damage to the local image and economy."

Rabanne, however, appears unrepentant. "I've thought about it for a very long time and decided to make my vision public for the common good," he says. "My personal conviction is total. I'm aware I'm staking my honour and credibility on this and I'd like nothing better than to be proved wrong. Nonetheless, I'm giving all my staff who are not already on holiday a few days' leave. And my shops will be closed."

The perfumes and clothes of Paco Rabanne have adorned some of the world's most beautiful women for the best part of 30 years. As a child, however, he was no stranger to global conflagration. A refugee from the Spanish civil war, where his father was shot by Franco's fascists, he escaped with his mother across the Pyrenees and reached France just in time for the Nazi invasion.

After a somewhat calmer postwar studenthood at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Rabanne worked for Balenciaga, Givenchy and Dior, and then set about constructing an empire. His hugely successful perfumes for both men and women were accompanied by a daring range of couture collections best known for their pioneering use of chain mail, plastic and other radical materials.

All this we know. What few of us knew until very recently was that an out-of-body boyhood experience would, half a century later, propel an undisputed genius of style to take what appears to be temporary leave of his scents and to claim, as he does, to come "from the crystal planet in the constellation of the Eagle which orbits around the star Altair".

In Has The Countdown Begun?, Rabanne writes: "I was lying on my bed, half asleep, at the age of seven. My spirit rose slowly from my inert body and I was suddenly transported into the presence of a strong light whose source I could not make out. I was no longer conscious of my own existence... Instinctively, I knew that I was on the Seventh Vibratory Plane, where everything is simply Essence. I no longer had bodily shape. I was a simple entity, vibratory and luminous..."

Rabanne says his latest prognostications of death and destruction originated in a dream he had in 1951 of hundreds of people being burned alive, throwing themselves despairingly into the Seine in a benighted bid to beat the brimstone. Then, years later, a scientist told him the ageing Russian space-station would start to become a serious danger to mankind in 1999.

"Suddenly everything became clear on a closer reading of Nostradamus, whom I've studied for decades, and of other soothsayers," he told the local paper La Dép che du Midi, in a extensive interview last weekend that sowed panic across the southwest.

"In the last century, Marie-Julie Jahenny predicted the destruction of the City of Light 'on a day when the sun will wear a veil of mourning' that's quite clearly a reference to the eclipse. And in Tarot, the number 11 is blind strength. I'm afraid it's foretold: Mir will fall from the sky on August 11 at 11.22 am."

Rabanne's visions have attracted some weird disciples. Josiane Pasquier, a woman who stalked him for more than three years while convinced he was Satan, was given a suspended jail sentence last year after claiming he taunted her by telepathy whenever she decided to eat chocolate.

But other followers have been more successful: the best-selling French astrologer Elisabeth Teissier, a former Rabanne model and controversial adviser to the late François Mitterrand, has a big new book out this month that also forecasts horrific happenings from June onwards.

Teissier says that Nostradamus, whose 950 mystical quatrains have over the years been used to explain the fire of London, Louis Pasteur and Adolf Hitler, predicts numerous earthquakes and ecological catastrophes, the stockmarket crash to end all stockmarket crashes (at the end of July), the alliance of Belgrade with Moscow, and the unexpected and disastrous return to earth of the Cassini-Huygens space probe after a fateful 666 days in orbit.

Yet the man himself claims he is neither mad nor a pessimist. After a period of "terrible darkness", he believes, the abominations of mankind will finally be excised and a new age of enlightenment will begin. Post-planetary cataclysm, "a fine, soothing rain will sprinkle the earth. The great apocalyptic tribulations will be ended."

And despite the worries of his Cata lan financial backers, such proclamations are clearly no bad thing for business. His first book spent weeks on the French bestseller list, and he was deluged with mail from admirers fascinated by his previous incarnations. Since he began saying that the end of the world was nigh, in fact, his perfume sales have increased tenfold.

There's a boom, you might say, in doom.

The GuardianTramp

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