Born: Son of French parents, born in San Andrea da Barbara, Italy, 2 July 1922. Education: Studied architecture, Saint-Etienne, France.
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The shrewd entrepreneurial skills displayed by Pierre Cardin throughout his career have made him one of the world's wealthiest fashion designers and a household name. A global phenomenon, he was the first designer to open up markets in Japan in 1958, China in 1978, and more recently Russia and Romania, applying the Cardin name to hundreds of products, from ties and alarm clocks to linens and frying pans.
Cardin was the first designer to understand the potential of the business of fashion. His move into ready-to-wear in 1959 scandalized the Chambre Syndicale, the monitoring body of haute couture in Paris, and he was expelled from its ranks for what was essentially an attempt to make designer clothes more accessible, and also displaying an astute sense of where the real money to be made in fashion lay.
From his earliest work for the House of Dior up to the 1950s, Cardin displayed an interest in the sculptural qualities of cut and construction that are still his trademarks in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Cardin produces garments of a hard-edged minimalism, backed up by exquisite tailoring he manipulates to produce sparse, geometric garments offset by collars and bizarre accessories (such as the vinyl torso decoration he introduced in 1968). His designs resist the rounded curves of the traditional female body, aided by his use of materials such as heavyweight wool and jersey rib, creating clothing
Cardin's embrace of science and technology, together with the notion of progress was expressed in his 1964 Space Age Collection, which featured white knitted catsuits, tabards worn over leggings, tubular dresses, and his growing interest in manmade fibres. He created his own fabric, Cardine, in 1968, a bonded, uncrushable fiber incorporating raised geometric patterns.
Cardin's curiously asexual designs for women in the 1960s remained so even when making direct reference to the breast by the use of cones, outlines, cutouts, and molding. Similarly, the exposure of the legs afforded by his minis was desexed by the models wearing thick opaque or patterned tights and thigh-high boots. Experiments with the application of paper cutout techniques to fabric with which Cardin was preoccupied in the 1960s were replaced in the 1970s by more fluid materials such as single angora jersey and the techniques of sunray and accordion pleating. A spiraling rather than geometric line began to be more noticeable and Cardin became renowned for his frothy evening dresses of layered, printed chiffon while continuing his experimentation with a series of unusual sleevehead designs.
Cardin was the first postwar designer to challenge London's Savile Row in the production of menswear. The high buttoned collarless jackets worn by the Beatles became de rigueur for the fashionable man in the 1960s and provided a relaxed yet elegant look when combined with a turtleneck sweater. Cardin, by paring away collars and relinquishing pockets, broke with tradition to create a new look for men realizing that the male suit, once a bastion of tradition, could be high fashion too.
Although merchandising and licensing his name may have overshadowed his influence as a fashion designer in recent years, Cardin's inventiveness and technical flair have often been underestimated. In a speech to American College students in Atlanta in July 1996, he said, "I may design everything from chairs to chocolate, but fashion is still my first love. You may do something classic, something beautiful, but that is just good taste. True talent has a bit of shock element to it; I did black body stockings 30 years ago, and everyone thought they were ugly. Now, they have become classic."
Nearing the end of the year 2000, Cardin sought a buyer for his fashion empire. He rejected overtures from French luxury giant LVMH, as well as the Gucci Group, holding out for someone he believed would not only maintain the brand's integrity but would protect his many longtime employees. "I'm not getting any younger," he told Women's Wear Daily (5 December 2000). "I don't have any heirs and I want to assure my company will continue to exist in the future. I don't need to sell; I still get up and work every day. But if I want to insure my employees' job security, I have to start planning for the future."
updated by Sydonie Benét