Pierre Cardin, the French designer whose famous name engraved everything from wristwatches to bed sheets after his iconic space-age styles propelled him into the fashion stratosphere in the 1960s, has passed away, said the French Academy of Fine Arts on Tuesday. He was 98 years old.
A licensing maverick, Cardin’s name went on thousands of products and during the brand’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, while products bearing his fancy cursive signature were sold in some 100,000 outlets. in the whole world.
That number has dropped dramatically in recent years, as his products were increasingly seen as low-cost, and his clothes – which decades later remained largely unchanged from their styles of the 60s – felt almost ridiculously dated.
A shrewd businessman, Cardin used the fabulous wealth that was the fruit of his empire to acquire high-end properties in Paris, including the Belle Epoque Maxim’s restaurant, which he also frequented.
The Academy of Fine Arts announced his death in a tweet on Tuesday. He had been one of its illustrious members since 1992. The academy did not give a cause of death or specify where or when he had died.
Alongside his French compatriot André Courrèges and the Spaniard Paco Rabanne, two other Parisian designers known for their space-age styles, Cardin revolutionized fashion from the early 1950s.
At a time when other Parisian brands were obsessed with the flattery of the female form, Cardin’s designs featured the wearer as a sort of glorified hanger, there to showcase the sharp shapes and graphic patterns of the garments. Intended neither for pragmatists nor for wallflowers, his creations aimed to make a grand entrance – sometimes very literally.
The fluorescent spandex dresses and bodysuits were fitted with plastic hoops that pulled away from the body at the waist, elbows, wrists, and knees. The Cardin dresses and bubble capes enveloped their wearers in oversized spheres of fabric. The toques were shaped like flying saucers; Bucket hats wrapped around the models’ entire heads, with windshields cut out at eye level.
“Fashion is always ridiculous, seen before or after. But at the moment it’s wonderful, ”Cardin said in a 1970 French television interview.
Cardin was born on July 7, 1922, in a small town near Venice, Italy, to a modest working class family. As a child, the family moved to Saint-Étienne in central France, where Cardin attended school and became an apprentice to a tailor at age 14.
Cardin would later embrace his status as a self-taught man, claiming in the same 1970 interview that going it alone “makes you see life in a much more real way and requires you to make decisions and be brave.”
“It’s a lot harder to enter a dark wood on your own than when you already know the way,” he says.
After moving to Paris, he worked as an assistant at Maison Paquin from 1945 and also participated in the design of costumes for personalities like Jean Cocteau. He also participated in the creation of the costumes for the 1946 director’s hit, “Beauty and the Beast”.
After briefly working with Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior, Cardin opened his own house in the first arrondissement of Paris, starting with costumes and masks.
Cardin delivered his first true collection in 1953. Success quickly followed, with the launch in 1954 of the famous “bubble” dress, which put the label on the map.
Cardin organized his first ready-to-wear fashion show in 1959 at the Printemps department store in Paris, a daring initiative that resulted in him being temporarily expelled from the Chambre Syndicale. Cardin’s relationship with the organization – the governing body of French fashion – was difficult, and he then left on his own to put on shows on his own terms.
Cardin’s high profile relationship with French screen siren Jeanne Moreau, the smoky-voiced blonde of “Jules and Jim” fame, also helped to strengthen the brand’s profile. Described by the two as “true love,” the relationship lasted for about five years and they never married.
Cardin viewed the astronomical expense of producing high fashion collections as an investment. Even though the pharaonic clothing prices did not cover the cost of making bespoke clothing, the media coverage generated by his fashion shows helped sell lower-priced items like hats, belts and stockings.
As Cardin’s fame and fortune grew, his real estate portfolio grew. He lived for a long time an austere, almost monastic existence with his sister in a vast apartment opposite the presidential palace of the Élysée in Paris. He’s bought so many high-end real estate in the neighborhood that fashion insiders joked that he could have put up a Rebellion.
In addition to his clothing stores for women and men, Cardin has opened a children’s boutique, a furniture store and the Espace Cardin, a large hall in central Paris where the designer will later organize fashion shows, as well as plays, ballets and other cultural events.
Beyond clothes, Cardin put his mark on perfumes, make-up, porcelain, chocolates, a seaside resort in the south of France and even the water point with the velvet walls Maxim’s – where you could often see him at lunch.
The 1970s saw a huge expansion of Cardin which brought its outlets to over 100,000, with about as many workers producing under the Cardin label around the world.
Cardin was at the forefront of recognizing the importance of Asia to the fashion world, both as a manufacturing center and for its consumer potential.
He was present in Japan from the beginning of the 60s and in 1979 became the first Western designer to mount a fashion show in China.
In 1986, he signed an agreement with the Soviet authorities to open a showroom in the communist nation to sell locally made clothes under his label.
Later, with no apparent heir, Cardin dismantled parts of his vast empire, selling dozens of his Chinese licenses to two local companies in 2009.
Two years later, he told the Wall Street Journal that he would be willing to sell his entire company – which at the time consisted of around 500 to 600 licenses – for $ 1.4 billion.
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