You’ve seen his work: the collarless Beatles’ suits, bubble skirts, long gowns slit to the thigh, opaque hose and the space age catsuit dresses and body stockings can all be attributed to Pierre Cardin.
After learning from Paquin, Schiaparelli, and Dior, Cardin went on to craft the fashion world to his liking, combining fashion with accessibility as a key designer.
Responsible for the first prêt-à-porter collection, Cardin made couture available to the masses.
“In 1959 I asked myself why should only the rich be able to afford exclusive fashion, why not the man and woman on the street as well? I can change that! And I did,” boasted Cardin.
His innovation allowed Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney, and soon Viktor & Rolf, the freedom to do H&M lines without compromising their designer name or cutting into their high fashion sales.
Cardin’s work continues to influence the future, in part, because he designed for it. His futuristic fabrics, outlandish furs, patent leather boots and cone-head hats were wildly popular in the 60’s and 70’s.
Rather than follow the body’s natural contours, Cardin viewed the body geometrically, using circles, hexagons, and triangles in his designs.
In step with the budding space program, after designing space suits for NASA in 1970, Cardin was the only person on the planet given permission to try on Lance Armstrong’s.
Cardin’s touch has gone far, but his name has gone farther. Attaching his name to everything, birthing the concept of licensing and branding, Cardin has been sneered at for denigrating fashion’s elitism.
With his name emblazoned allegedly on over 800 products, Cardin has been quoted as saying, “I wash with my own soap, wear my own perfume, go to bed with my own sheets, have my own food products… I live on me.”
And the world lives on him. Highly appreciative of global fashion, Cardin took interest in China, Russian and Japan, flying aboard the inaugural flight from Paris to Tokyo. Breaking the Caucasian monotony on the runway, Cardin introduced the first Japanese model, Hiroko Matsumoto, ushering in an age of diversity.
After stepping away from fashion at age 82, Cardin’s work is now commemorated with the sporadic retrospective, which has occurred at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, been featured in the Victoria and Albert Museum and numerous galleries around Japan.
His legacy is ever-present. Examine Cardin’s work closely and today’s fashion seems to simply be his work remixed. Junya Wantanabe’s peaked shoulders on his trench mirror Cardin’s 1979 coat. Viktor & Rolf’s upside-down spring dress line was reminiscent of Cardin’s 1992 Haute Couture gown. Balenciaga’s fall riding gear and Proenza Schouler corseted dresses all conjure elements of Cardin.
Now retired, Cardin’s amassed wealth has offered him interesting opportunities. It is no secret that fashion constantly overlaps with the world of kink, embodying darker worlds of fantasy and sexuality. But it did come as a surprise when Pierre Cardin purchased the Marquis de Sade’s castle in 2001.
But, it seems only fair, after eight decades of business, now he can retire into pleasure.