Pierre Cardin is a fashion industry icon, a visionary activist and designer, who has positively impacted the apparel industry and the world. His breakout influential collections of the 1950’s and 60’s showcased the unique, minimalist, futuristic styles that he became known for. Cardin has been now been designing for 60 years and his products are used by 150 million people worldwide.
Cardin was born in San Andrea de Barbara near Venice, Italy on July 7th 1922, to parents who were French by birth. While his father hoped he would take up the family trade, winemaking, Pierre was fascinated by the arts, taking an interest in ballet and the theatre. He had aspirations to be an actor, but also was interested in the dramatic costumes he saw onstage. At 14, he moved to Vichy and became apprenticed to a tailor, and at 17 became a tailor in his own right. During World War II he served in the Red Cross.
In 1945, Cardin moved to Paris to study Architecture at Saint Etienne , where he made many contacts that would further his career. During this period, he worked in the houses of Madame Paquin and Elsa Schiaparelli, before becoming the head of workroom for Christian Dior in 1946, helping to design the ‘New Look’. He also did costume design for films, including Beauty and the Beast (1946), inspiring him to open his own fashion house and sparking the beginning of his own style.
Cardin’s style comes from an interest in what is next. The way he describes it being: “The clothes I like best are the ones I invent for a life that doesn’t yet exist: tomorrow’s world.” Even from his beginnings at Dior, Cardin’s interest in architecture comes though very clearly in his garments. His style is always very structured and contrived, working against the natural curves of a woman’s body and creating unusual shapes that do not occur naturally on the human form. The idea can be seen in his design philosophy, “What comes first is the shape. Then the material, which expresses the volumes, fluidity, softness. The colour is the last thing. To bring a shape to life, the proportions must be right.”
In the 1950’s, just after establishing his own fashion house, you can see that Cardin is still strongly influenced by the work of others, Dior especially. However, he slowly begins to add elements that are of more interest to him. In the associated image, you can see that the dress is tight at the natural waist, with what could be considered a pencil skirt, but the extra folds of fabric add something to the silhouette that was completely unheard of for that time. As the decade went on, Cardin rejected the accepted silhouette of that time entirely, opting instead for loose tent shaped dresses and boxy suits that would be seen more often in the next decade. Cardin’s move from avant-garde to space-age was imminent.
By the 1960’s, Cardin’s inspiration came not only from architecture, but even more basic geometric shapes, Op Art and above all, space travel. In the image from 1962, you can see the beginnings of this idea taking shape in the unusual choice of headgear on the model. The coatdress is simple, unadorned and loose in relation to the body, a piece that would probably be seen as classic today, whereas the headpiece makes the model look prepped for space travel. In the Bubble cape, one can clearly see how Cardin’s interest in simple geometric shapes was translated into high fashion. This garment could be considered a signature piece of Cardin’s, it has an unusual shape that does not conform to a woman’s curves, it has geometric patterns as a detail and it incorporates only a few colors. The Space Age body stockings were a favorite of Cardin during this period. These striped versions were paired with miniskirts and visors, completing a look chic enough to be worthy of the father of Space Age Fashion.
Cardin also started doing menswear during this period, not out of the question due to his strong tailoring background. He sought to make the traditional men’s suit highly fashionable, and attempted to do so by creating a high buttoned collarless jacket that could be dressed down with the addition of a turtleneck sweater.
Cardin’s interest in simple shapes evolved in the 1970’s to encompass spirals. The associated Spiral dress image is one example of his expression of this shape. While it is simple on the top, each spiraled portion stands on its own and is able to hold up the bottom ring. The way each piece is curved ensures that the white portion of the dress is the same, no matter what angle it is seen from. The dress with the rounded hem shows that Cardin was still very in touch with his aesthetic during this period, it still has unusual shapes, minimal adornment and the geometric interest that Cardin’s garments all include.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s Cardin became focused on building a brand name, taking a backseat in his fashion empire. He has sought to put his name on everything; furniture, jewelry, perfume, household accessories, even food products. In 1996, he claimed, “I may design everything from chairs to chocolate, but fashion is still my first love.” He has proved this recently by coming back to the fashion world. His most recent collection was met with critical confusion for the most part, but for someone who has followed Cardin’s signature styles through more than 50 years it is easy to see his influences and references. In the first image, the spaghetti strap mint and lavender tent dress looks simple today, but has an almost shocking amount of detail in comparison to past works. The elements still remain, basic patterns and few colors with a silhouette that is looser, but there is a more modern feeling to it. The second image from this collection, the Op Art dress, references Cardin’s interest in the movement’s ability to deceive the eye. The circular patterns on the dress and hat are reminiscent not only of the simple geometry that remains his signature, but also of the Op Art craze of the 1960’s.
Today, Cardin is looking to sell his fashion empire, and focus more on his political and humanitarian ventures. He is waiting for someone who will maintain the brand and its integrity, and wants to ensure that his 200,000 employees remain in good standing. Though he built the brand from the ground up, Cardin insists that the people are more importan