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Tribute: Pierre Cardin, Independent Fashion Designer Who Mixed Art And Business, Passes Away At 98


Pierre Cardin was expelled from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 1959. The late designer, who passed away at the age of 98 on December 29, 2020, faced expulsion, for he had had the conviction to design ready-to-wear clothes for ladies for the Printemps department store in Paris. This initiative was absolutely not in the line of norms established by the governing body of fashion then. Pierre Cardin designed a ready-to-wear collection marked by asymmetrical and scalloped cuts - the legendary designer made a strong case for inclusivity. Pierre Cardin was a visionary, scandalous for those rigid, but mostly a man admired for his individuality. He was reinstated by the very Chambre Syndicale but the designer left it in 1966 by his own admission. He said, "They said prêt-à-porter will kill your name, and it saved me."

Pierre Cardin was a man of his own terms and conditions, he was independent. He didn't want the interference of governing bodies in his work, for that restricted his freedom. Even when he wanted to sell his fashion house at a much later stage in his career, he didn't go the conventional route. According to the media reports, Pierre Cardin didn't opt for the major conglomerates such as LVMH and PPR because of tight control of parent companies.

Born on 2 July 1922 in Italy, Pierre Cardin's family shifted to France to escape Fascism. His father wanted him to study architecture but the designer always had his eyes on fashion. He started learning the art of tailoring by the age of 14 and moved to Vichy to continue making outfits for women. He also worked for the Red Cross during World War II.

Cardin moved to Paris in 1945, where he worked with Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior. He was denied work at Balenciaga and it was in 1950, he founded his own fashion house. He designed around 30 costumes for a masquerade ball at Palazzo Labia in 1951 - the event is considered the launch of Pierre Cardin's career.

While he actively designed outfits, his Bubble Dress is what got him widespread recognition. The dress, which is in trend these days, was created by Pierre Cardin and his version of the bubble dress was a sculptural outfit that was sleeveless and with a cinched bodice and bubble-like flared skirt hem. The designer went on to robustly translate his perception into thoughts.

Cardin was the first coutourier to visit Japan and recognise the country as a potential market for luxury goods. The designer struck a deal with a departmental store to sell his clothes, a move that raised eyebrows but earned him profits. He put his eponymous fashion house's logo, Pierre Cardin, on the clothes - a common practice today that wasn't practised at that time and era.

Pierre Cardin was among the pioneers who blended art with commerce for he believed that at the end of the day everything is business. He told the CBS, "Everything is business, you know. A picture is business. If you don't sell your picture, you one knows you."

He quite evidently changed the map of fashion. Pierre Cardin defied classicism, he was a contemporary. He beckoned the fashion world to change and actually understood the significance of the retail sector. His goods were sold to around 100,000 outlets.

Pierre Cardin made fashion more inclusive when designers of his time were strictly exclusive. But he boasted of an incredible clientele that included Rita Hayworth, Gregory Peck, Jacqueline Kennedy and Jeanne Moreau among others. He also designed costumes for films, including Beauty and the Beast (1946) and the '60s famous band, The Beatles, wore the Pierre Cardin-designed Nehru Jackets for an event.

Pierre Cardin was as much a haute couture as a prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) designer and he had no qualms in stating that the latter works more for him. He is known as the licencing genius with so many headlines around the world mentioning it upon his death and at some stage, he was even discredited for making couture less significant. But he actually gave couture a new shape by defying shape, quite literally.

The late designer didn't make clothes to flatter a female's silhouette. On the contrary, most of his late '60s and '70s designs were about creating new, interesting modern shapes, which broadened the definition of shape. Inspired by intergalactic space, geometry, architecture, and more, Pierre Cardin used these influences into his clothes. With bold patterns, moulding, and nuanced sharp cuts, the designer made futuristic wear a fashion in the world of tweed coats. His outfits were layered and flared, even if it came across as defying the existing norms.

He busied himself with his own articulation of thoughts, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. He contributed a lot to menswear (gender-fluid really) but his interpretation of the Nehru Jacket and cylindrical suits didn't quite make an impact in the western market. He not only played with any given hue but what was also interesting about his outfits was that he made simple patterns such as circles and stripes stand out.

The designer had a unique sense of what will look good on the magazine spread. It wasn't just clothes that he was about - Pierre Cardin forayed into almost every sector. You all know about his designer pens and his jewellery but he also designed seat covers for the car, perfumes (phallus perfume bottle), accessories, and more. He expanded; he didn't limit himself!

In fact, he diversified into real estate, too. In 2001, Pierre Cardin bought the ruined Château de Lacoste castle and restored it selectively. He organised an annual musical and art festival in the quarries of the castle, which was his second residence. His first house is considered among the most unique and elusive homes in the world - The Bubble Palace, which was built for a French industrialist but later bought by Pierre Cardin.

He even opened a Pierre Cardin Museum, which featured his designs over the years. He was the designer, who dared to mix art and business and even made it work. Well, he told the CBS at the age of 90, "I'm fancy, I'm a fancy boy."

Cover Image Courtesy: Pierre Cardin's Instagram

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