Pierre Cardin, the French designer whose famous name coined everything from wristwatches to bedsheets after his iconic Space Age styles shot him into the fashion stratosphere in the 1960s, has died, the French Academy of Fine Arts said Tuesday . He was 98 years old.
An outsider to licensing, Cardin’s name was used on thousands of products and in the brand’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, while merchandise with his fancy italic signature was sold in around 100,000 stores worldwide.
That number declined dramatically in later years as his products began to be viewed as cheaply made and his clothing – which decades later remained virtually unchanged from 1960s styles – felt almost ridiculously dated.
An accomplished businessman, Cardin used the fabulous wealth that was the fruit of his empire to acquire prime Parisian real estate, including the Belle Epoque restaurant Maxim’s, which he also visited.
The Fine Arts Academy announced his death in a tweet on Tuesday. He has been among its famous members since 1992. The academy did not give any cause of death or say where or when he had died.
Together with French compatriot Andre Courreges and Spaniard Paco Rabanne, two other Paris-based designers known for their space-age styles, Cardin revolutionized fashion from the early 1950s.
At a time when other Parisian labels were obsessed with flattering the feminine shape, Cardin’s designs threw the wearer on as a kind of glorified coat hanger to showcase the clothing’s sharp shapes and graphic patterns. Intended neither for pragmatists nor for wallflowers, his designs were about making a grand entrance – sometimes very literally.
Fluorescent spandex dresses and bodysuits were tied with plastic hoops that protruded from the body at the waist, elbows, wrists and knees. Cardin Bubble dresses and cloaks wrapped their wearers in oversized balls of fabric. Hoods were shaped like flying saucers; Bucket hats covered the entire heads of the models with cut out windshields around the eyes.
“Fashion is always ridiculous, seen before or after. But right now it’s wonderful, ”Cardin said in an interview with French television in 1970.
Cardin was born on July 7, 1922 in a small town near Venice into a modest working-class family. As a child, the family moved to Saint Etienne in central France, where Cardin was taught and, at the age of 14, became an apprentice tailor.
Cardin later embraced his self-made man status, saying in the same 1970 interview that it makes life a lot more real and forces you to make choices and be brave.
“It is much more difficult to get into a dark forest alone than if you already know the way,” he said.
After moving to Paris, he worked as an assistant in the House of Paquin from 1945 and also helped design costumes for Jean Cocteau. He was also involved in creating the costumes for the 1946 director’s hit “Beauty and the Beast”.
After a short work with Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian DiorCardin opened his own house in Paris’ first district, starting with costumes and masks.
Cardin delivered its first real collection in 1953. Success followed quickly when the famous “Bubble” dress came out in 1954, which was used to put the label on the card.
Cardin staged his first ready-to-wear show in Paris’ Printemps department store in 1959, a bold initiative that temporarily kicked him out of the Chambre Syndicale. Cardin’s relationship with the organization – the governing body of French fashion – was rocky, and he later voluntarily quit running shows on his own terms.
Cardin’s high-profile relationship with French on-screen siren Jeanne Moreau, the smoky blonde from Jules and Jim, also contributed to the brand’s popularity. Described by both of them as “true love,” the relationship lasted about five years and they never married.
Cardin saw the astronomical cost of creating haute couture collections as an investment. Although the pharaonic prices of the clothes did not cover the cost of making the bespoke garments, media coverage of his couture shows helped sell items with lower sticker prices such as hats, belts, and hosiery.
With Cardin’s fame and fortune, so too did his real estate portfolio. For a long time he lived a strict, almost monastic life with his sister in a spacious apartment opposite the presidential palace at Elysee in Paris. He was buying up so many prime neighborhood properties that fashion insiders joked he could have climbed one Coup.
In addition to the boutiques for women’s and men’s clothing, Cardin opened a children’s shop, a furniture store and the Espace Cardin, a spacious hall in the center of Paris, in which the designer later held fashion shows as well as plays, ballets and other cultural events.
In addition to clothing, Cardin made a mark on perfumes, make-up, china, chocolates, a resort in southern France and even the velvet-walled waterhole Maxim – where he was often seen at lunch.
There was a huge Cardin expansion in the 1970s, bringing its outlets to more than 100,000. Around the same number of workers produced under the Cardin label worldwide.
Cardin pioneered the importance of Asia to the fashion world, both as a manufacturing hub and for its consumer potential.
He was present in Japan from the early 1960s and in 1979 was the first Western designer to stage a fashion show in China.
In 1986 he signed a contract with the Soviet authorities to open a showroom in the communist nation to sell locally made clothing under his label.
In his later life, with no legacy apparent, Cardin dismantled parts of his vast empire and in 2009 sold dozens of his Chinese licenses to two local companies.
Two years later, he told the Wall Street Journal that he was ready to sell his entire business – an estimated 500 to 600 licenses at the time – for $ 1.4 billion.
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