French designer Pierre Cardin, whose space-inspired looks upended catwalk styles in the 1960s and 70s, died at the age of 98 on December 29, 2020.
Cardin who was born in Italy in 1922 but emigrated to France as a small child, died in a hospital in Neuilly in the west of Paris, his family said when the news of his death was announced.
He cut his teeth working at top couture houses such as Christian Dior before going on to launch his own brand and pioneering the use of licensing in fashion, plastering his label’s name on products of all kinds and making a fortune in the process.
As well as shaking up fashion with bubble-dresses and geometrical designs, Cardin was also one of the first to bring high fashion to the masses by selling collections in department stores from the late 1950s.
His savvy business sense brought him a mix of admiration but also scorn from fashion purists at the time but he maintained that he built his business empire without ever asking for a bank loan.
As well as shaking up fashion with bubble-dresses and geometrical designs, Cardin was also one of the first to bring high fashion to the masses by selling collections in department stores from the late 1950s. Pictured: Cardin (bottom row, centre) with models wearing his clothes in 2017 at a fashion show in Cardin’s chateau in the village of Lacoste that once belonged to the Marquis de Sade
Cardin who was born in Italy in 1922 but emigrated to France as a small child, died in a hospital in Neuilly in the west of Paris, his family said. Pictured: Cardin during the inauguration of the Pierre Cardin Museum in Paris in 2014
Cardin was the first designer to sell clothes collections in department stores in the late 1950s, and the first to enter the licensing business for perfumes, accessories and even food – now a major profit driver for many fashion houses.
‘It’s all the same to me whether I am doing sleeves for dresses or table legs,’ a telling quote on his website once read.
Hard as it may be to imagine decades later, Armani chocolates, Bulgari hotels and Gucci sunglasses are all based on Cardin’s realisation that a fashion brand’s glamour had endless merchandising potential.
Over the years his name has been stamped on razor blades, household goods, and tacky accessories – even Walmart boxer shorts.
He once said it would not bother him to have his initials, PC, etched into rolls of toilet paper.
He was also the inspiration for a phallus-like perfume flask.
Cardin in an undated photo with models as they display his Japanese-inspired silk gowns. Cardin designed part of the bridal trousseau for Empress Emerita Michiko ahead of her wedding to Japan’s then-Crown Prince Akihito
Cardin with American model and actress Brooke Shields wearing one of his designs to a gala at Macy’s to launch his perfume Maxims in 1985
Cardin with models at the now-closed Simpsons Piccadilly department store in London in an undated photo
Cardin’s detractors accused him of destroying the value of his brand and the notion of luxury in general. But he seemed largely unaffected by criticism.
‘I had a sense for marketing my name,’ Cardin told Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in 2007.
‘Does money spoil one’s ideas? I don’t dream of money after all, but while I’m dreaming, I’m making money. It’s never been about the money.’
Born Pietro Cardin on July 2, 1922 in San Biagio Di Callalta, near Venice, Cardin moved to France at the age of two and grew up in the central city of Saint-Etienne.
Cardin met French artists Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard in 1944, with whom he would design the costumes and masks for Cocteau’s celebrated film version of Beauty and the Beast (pictured)
One of Cardin’s designs worn by Josette Day in Jean Cocteau’s classic film La Belle et la Bete
The youngest of 11 children, at aged 17 he went to work for a tailor in nearby Vichy, which was under Nazi rule at the time, while also working for the Red Cross.
In his youth he dreamt for a time of becoming an actor, doing some work on the stage as well as modelling and dancing professionally.
In 1944, he arrived in Paris and began working under established designers Jeanne Paquin and Elsa Schiaparelli.
That same year, Cardin met French artists Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard, with whom he would design the costumes and masks for Cocteau’s celebrated film version of Beauty and the Beast.
In 1946, he joined the house of the then-unknown Christian Dior as a tailor shortly before Dior revolutionised post-war fashion with his ‘New Look’.
The American actress Lauren Bacall (left) with Cardin in 1968 on the set of the CBS special The Paris Collections Fall Fashion Preview
Cardin (right) entertains British actress Charlotte Rampling (centre) and her then-husband French musician Jean-Michael Jarre (left) at his home in Paris in 1979
French actress Jeanne Moreau (right) congratulates Cardin after the presentation of his collection in 1970. The two dated in the 1960s and Moreau continued to wear his clothes after the end of their relationship
Within five years he set up his own house on the rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris and began welcoming clients including Hollywood star Rita Hayworth and Argentina’s First Lady Eva Perón.
Cardin’s first big commercial venture, when he teamed up with the Printemps department store in the late 1950s, led to him being briefly expelled from the rarified guild of French fashion designers, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture.
Couturiers in that club were forbidden at that time to show outside their Paris salons, let alone in department stores.
He also blazed a trail outside France long before other fashion multinationals in search of new markets.
The Beatles in collarless Pierre Cardin suits in an early photo of the group backstage in 1963
Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor chats to Cardin who is wearing an unusual creation of his own design at a party in 1967
Cardin designed part of the bridal trousseau for Japan’s Empress Emerita Michiko ahead of her wedding to the then-Crown Prince Akihito in 1959.
He presented a collection in Communist China in 1979 when it was still largely closed to the outside world. And just two years after the Berlin Wall came down, in 1991, a Cardin fashion show on Moscow’s Red Square attracted a crowd of 200,000.
Cardin also expanded into new businesses, buying fabled Paris restaurant Maxim’s in the 1980s and opening replica outlets around the world.
He leveraged the investment further by launching Minim’s, a chain of fancy fast-food joints that reproduced the Belle Epoque decor of the original exclusive Paris eatery.
His empire embraces perfumes, foods, industrial design, real estate, entertainment and even fresh flowers.
Cardin takes a post at a fashion show in this undated photo
While best known for the work of his 1960s and 70s heyday, Cardin remained a key fixture of the fashion circuit, creating looks for Naomi Campbell (left) and supporting other designers, including model Eva Herzigova (right with Cardin)
The designer (centre) is applauded by the audience at the end of a retrospective show at the Institut de France in 2016
True to his taste for futuristic designs, Cardin also owned the Palais des Bulles, or Bubble Palace, a residence-cum-events-venue woven into the cliffs on one of the most exclusive strips of the French riviera.
Not too far away, there is also a chateau in the village of Lacoste that once belonged to the Marquis de Sade.
For his latest venture in February this year, he teamed up with a designer seven decades his junior.
Pierre Courtial, 27, unveiled a collection at Cardin’s studio on Paris’s chic Rue Saint-Honore, with pieces that echoed some of the veteran designer’s geometrical aesthetics.
Cardin said he still rated originality above anything else.
‘I’ve always tried to be different, to be myself,’ Cardin told Reuters news agency.
‘Whether people like it or not, that’s not what matters.’
While he no longer presented runway collections, Cardin remained active in the industry, attending parties and events and taking young designers under his wing.
He has previously been a mentor to prominent designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier.
Designer Jean Paul Gaultier (right) thanked Cardin (left) for ‘opening the doors of fashion’ to him in a tribute on Instagram
Gaultier led the tributes to Cardin after the announcement of his death on Tuesday.
‘Couturier, designer, French ambassador, academician, mécène, throughout his life, Pierre Cardin has carried out a beautiful work.
‘Thank you Monsieur Cardin for opening the doors of fashion to me and making my dream possible…’ Gaultier wrote in an Instagram post along with a photo of him with Cardin.
French-Italian model Carla Bruni posted a picture of Cardin with French actress Jeanne Moreau who he dated in the 1960s and shared a lifelong friendship with along with the message: ‘RIP Monsieur @pierrecardinofficiel, you have gone to join your Jeanne and some angles’.
Designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, the artistic director of Benetton, said Cardin was an ‘a very extraordinary man’ who did not set borders between fashion, design or architecture.
‘His inspiration boosted my imagination,’ he told AFP, adding that for Cardin the marketing and promotion of his art ‘was as important as the art itself.’
The official Vogue Paris Instagram account said Cardin was ‘one of the finest dressmakers to dream of the future, experimenting with astronaut-inspired fashion from 1950.’
‘His revolutionary designs such as the bubble dress, the ‘Cosmocorps’ suit, roller pants and the ‘Chasuble’ cut-out dresses changed the shape of fashion. His incredible career and striking silhouettes influenced both his own era and the designers of today’.