Pierre Cardin, the iconic French couturier celebrated for his futuristic style and groundbreaking contributions to ready-to-wear fashion, passed away on December 29th at the age of 98. His remarkable legacy extends to a global business empire valued at 525 million euros, as reported by French magazine Challenges, boasting a wide range of licenses across various industries.
Born on July 2nd, 1922, near Venice, Italy, Pierre Cardin swiftly rose to prominence during the 1960s fashion scene, standing alongside luminaries like Paco Rabanne and André Courrèges. His avant-garde collections, inspired by space-age aesthetics, left an indelible mark. Cardin not only reshaped fashion but pioneered the concept of ready-to-wear, defying convention by venturing into unconventional sectors, earning both criticism and admiration from his contemporaries.
The Cardin style was characterized by geometric cuts, military influences, metallic-adorned skirts, bubble dresses, and pinafores with futuristic elements, blending vivid colors with silvery tones. His designs evoked a sense of otherworldly fashion, influenced by science fiction and cosmic exploration. In a historic moment, he became the first civilian to wear a space suit, donning US astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s suit in 1971.
Cardin’s fashion journey commenced in 1945 when he relocated to Paris, gaining experience at esteemed fashion houses such as Jeanne Paquin, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Christian Dior, where he contributed to the iconic ‘Bar’ two-piece suit. His eponymous label emerged in 1950 when he was just 28 years old.
The iconic boutique, situated on rue Richepanse in Paris (later renamed rue du Chevalier-de-Saint-George), initially focused on theatrical costumes and masks, influenced by his collaboration with renowned French author and director Jean Cocteau in 1946, designing costumes for the film ‘Beauty and the Beast.’
In 1953, Pierre Cardin unveiled his inaugural collection, gaining acclaim with the revolutionary bubble dress in 1954, which underscored his affinity for geometric forms. The brand expanded with the introduction of ‘Eve,’ a women’s boutique on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1955, followed by ‘Adam,’ catering to menswear, in 1957.
The transformative 1960s marked Pierre Cardin’s zenith, characterized by his oft-quoted mantra, «I do fashion, it’s my drug.» He debuted women’s ready-to-wear at Le Printemps department store in 1959, subsequently launching a men’s collection in 1960, featuring students on the runway, as male models were scarce. In 1966, Cardin ventured into children’s fashion and introduced synthetic materials, laying the foundation for his thriving licensing enterprise.
Cardin’s audacious approach and innovative marketing led to his expulsion from the French fashion industry’s union. However, he remained steadfast in his vision—to transcend a mere label and become a brand with enduring resonance. Licensing became his forte, expanding the Pierre Cardin name to diverse products, encompassing wallpaper, cigars, mineral water, tableware, and more. His brand reached over a hundred countries, adorning an array of products.
Cardin’s pursuit of global recognition culminated in spectacular runway shows held in extraordinary locations, including the Gobi Desert, an aircraft carrier in Tianjin, China, Moscow’s Red Square with an audience exceeding 200,000, Rome’s prestigious Villa Medici, and Belgrade’s White Palace. In 2016, the Institut de France hosted an extraordinary retrospective honoring Cardin’s 70-year design legacy, commemorating his unique distinction as the sole couturier inducted into France’s Fine Arts Academy in 1991.
During the 1970s, Pierre Cardin extended his creative boundaries, venturing into object design, jewelry, fragrances, and even the culinary realm by acquiring the iconic Parisian restaurant Maxim’s in 1981.
A connoisseur of art, Cardin established a foundation in Paris in 1970, housing a diverse collection of works by painters, sculptors, and set designers—an institution later assumed by the Municipality of Paris in 2016. Additionally, he founded the ‘Passé-Présent-Futur’ museum in Saint-Ouen, France, in 2006, featuring 200 haute couture models and furniture design pieces. In 2014, the museum relocated to Paris at 5 rue Saint-Merri, spanning 1,000 m2, offering insights into the creative passion of the French designer.
In the early 2000s, Cardin made headlines with the acquisition of the castle once belonging to the Marquis de Sade in Lacoste, France, alongside nearly thirty adjacent houses, with plans to transform them into cultural event venues, sparking both intrigue and tension among locals.
Pierre Cardin, an independent luminary in the fashion realm, stewarded a business valued at an estimated 525 million euros in 2020, predominantly fueled by licensing revenues. In July 2019, the Brooklyn Museum of New York paid tribute to Cardin with his first major retrospective in three decades, aptly titled «Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion.» This event reaffirmed the enduring influence of a designer who intuitively grasped the enduring power of a brand and was unafraid to challenge the conventional boundaries of the fashion industry and beyond.