REMEMBERING PIERRE CARDIN
French designer and household name Pierre Cardin passed away December 29, 2020 at age 98. We pause to give reverence to a True Fashionista visionary in men’s and women’s fashion whose decades-long career had many notable successes. He pioneered the now common practice of designer licensing by putting his name not just on his ready-to-wear clothes but also on luggage, carpets, kitchen appliances, watches, sunglasses and much more. He was also the first French designer to create a ready-to-wear line of clothing rather than custom-order clothing in 1954. A decade later he became the first women’s designer to launch a collection for men with his famous necktie, eventually expanding to a full line. Cardin was also the first French couturier to break into the Asian and Soviet fashion markets, staging the first French couture fashion show in Beijing in 1979.
“He was a talented designer and a talented businessman. You don’t often see that,” said fashion historian Victoria Steele, director of special collections at UCLA’s Young Research Library, in a 2005 Los Angeles Times interview. “In his fashion designs and his approach to business, he was attuned to his moment in history. He demonstrated a certain kind of shrewdness.”
Cardin’s ready-to-wear idea happened as a matter of business in order to finance his custom-order collections. He told the London Financial Times in 2000, “All my money was going to my couture shows and I needed something commercial to support my employees. I approached a friend who had a tie company and said, ‘Why don’t I design something you produce?’” He launched a standard in business copied a million times over to this day.
Business acumen aside, Cardin’s visionary designs were bold and futuristic looking styles that occasionally conjured up moments of fashion brilliance straight out of Barbarella. As the early sixties ushered in the space age, Cardin was ready with clothing to match. From his A-line mini-dress matched with tall boots to his famous “bubble” dress gathered at the hem by a drawstring and men’s collarless jackets immortalized by The Beatles, Cardin became a worldwide commercial success. He presented his first True Fashionista ready-to-wear collection at the Printemps department store in Paris in the early sixties, a daring move that got him temporarily expelled from Chambre Syndicale, the body governing French haute couture.
Cardin’s futuristic collections were influenced by geometric shapes and crafted in fabrics like plastics and brightly colored vinyl. In 1969, NASA commissioned him to create an interpretation of a spacesuit, a True Fashionista inspiration seen in his later work. “The dresses I prefer,” he told the New York Times, “are those I invent for a life that does not yet exist.” His 1970 design of a buttoned cape worn from the head down that looked like an eerie cross between a burka and space age nun’s habit is yet another fine example.
As Ruth La Ferla shares for the NY times, “Cardin conceived of himself above all as a prolific ideas man, relishing his role as the overseer of a realm that encompassed clothing accessories, furniture, household products and fragrances sold through some 800 licensees in more than 140 countries on five continents.
Cardin once famously boasted, “I wash with my own soap. I wear my own perfume, go to bed with my own sheets, have my own food products. I live on me.”
Born July 7, 1922 outside of Venice, Cardin and his family relocated to France to find refuge from the rise of Italian fascism. He briefly entertained a career acting, but found himself drawn instead to designing costumes and sets for the stage. He apprenticed at several prominent fashion houses like Paquin and Elsa Schiaparelli, then designed coats and suits for Christian Dior from 1946-1950. From there Cardin launched his own fashion house. His first collection for the House of Cardin featured suits and coats modeled in heavyweight wool with emphatic details and the geometric shapes and cutouts that were to become his trademark, like his True Fashionista barrel coat with an oversized wool collar in 1955 and his famous balloon dresses introduced in 1959.
Cardin thought much more of his clothing than of the models who wore them, famous stating, “I think of the dress. The woman doesn’t matter.” The masses certainly thought about his clothing however. Throughout his tenure, countless high-profile clients have worn his designs, including Jackie Kennedy, Jeanne Moreau, Gregory Peck, Yul Brynner and Naomi Campbell.
Cardin never stopped creating. His eclectic interests extended from architecture to interior design and the performing arts. He produced musicals and dance. He showed works from experimental arts groups at L’Espace Cardin. He never stopped his licensing ventures, putting his name on matches, sardine can labels, aprons, fragrances, even pickle jars. His visions extended right into the 21st century, where he famously designed the chain-mail dress worn by Lady Gaga. In 2014 he opened a museum in Paris to display his work, calling it the Past-Present-Future Museum.
Although Cardin created several retrospective lines of his earlier work, he refused to repeat himself outright. Always the visionary to the end, He insisted, “I design for tomorrow. I never look backward.”
Find a continuously updated collection of Pierre Cardin pieces at True Fashionistas, either in-store or online, always at a fraction of the original price. R.I.P. Monsieur Cardin.