Pierre Cardin (born 1922) came from obscurity but very quickly became one of the top fashion designers in the world and was the trailblazer for the soft and floppy fashion look of the 1950s and 1960s. He developed the first line of clothes for men by a courtier and continually changed and expanded the world of fashion with his creations over the years. He is considered a living legend in the fashion industry.
Pierre Cardin was born at his parents vacation home at San Andrea da Barbara near Venice, Italy on July 7, (some sources say July 2) 1922. In 1926, his parents moved back to their native France where Cardin grew up in the industrial town of St. Etienne in the Department of Loire in southeast France. His parents were wealthy wine merchants who had always hoped their son would become an architect, but by the age of eight Cardin was showing an ability and aptitude for fashion design by designing dresses for the dolls of his neighbor's child. In 1936, Cardin began apprenticing in Vichy, France for a tailor named Manby and would stay on until almost the end of World War II. At Manby's, Cardin learned the art of tailoring suits that would show in the rest his work.
Designs In Paris
Cardin quit Manby's with the war almost over and got a job with the French Red Cross. This job brought him to Paris in late 1944. The 17-year-old Cardin stayed in Paris, the fashion capital of the world, and began working for French fashion designer Paquin. While working for Paquin, Cardin met many French intellectuals and heads of society. Using these connections, Cardin began designing and making the elaborate costumes for theatrical presentations and motion pictures.
In 1946, Cardin's work could be seen in French film director Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. Cocteau was very impressed with the young Cardin and introduced him to designer Christian Dior. Dior was an internationally recognized fashion designer preparing to release his latest House of Dior collection. Cardin was soon working for the Dior house and became one of the "team of thirteen" that would design so much of Dior's line over the next years and become associated with fashions post-war "New Look." While at Dior's, Cardin designed his famous and much publicized "Bar" line that featured tight jackets and long black skirts. He soon came to the notice of fashion observers and buyers as the natural successor to Dior.
House of Cardin
In 1949, Cardin left the House of Dior and in 1950, with the help of Marcel Escoffier, struck out on his own and became a costume designer in an attic shop where he would design many costumes for the French capital city's numerous balls and create his own line of suits for a clientele that would continue to expand. His work was widely seen and loved and he designed costumes for many other French designers, including Dior. He was widely believed to be the best suit designer in Paris and by 1953, Cardin had purchased the entire building on Rue Riche Panse where he had started barely three years earlier.
In 1953, he moved his operations into a six-story eighteenth-century mansion on the very fashionable Faubourg Saint-Honore and established the House of Cardin. As part of the purchase agreement, Cardin was obliged to continue a conservative men's shop that had occupied the building's ground floor. Unwilling to associate with traditional men's shirts and ties, Cardin divided his elegant house into two separate boutiques in 1954: one was called "Adam" and the other "Eve." He then set about designing avant-garde ties, sweaters and suit jackets that became enormously popular in Europe.
In 1957, Cardin was still regarded as a suit designer and costume maker. He wanted to break out of this mold into the world of total fashion design. To do this, Cardin presented his first full fashion collection of over 120 styles in the summer of 1957 in Paris. The show was an immediate success and Cardin soon became a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture (Couture Employers' Federation) as one of the best designers in France. His show in 1958 proved that he was not a one-hit wonder and he solidified his reputation in the fashion world.
Shows America His Designs
Throughout the 1960s Cardin continues to design clothes for both men and women that became increasingly fanciful and replete with bright colors. But, knowing that some of his customers would not wear many of the avantgarde creations that he was producing, he soon began designing a separate and more traditional lines for a department store in Paris. In 1961, he was allowed to distribute these lines himself outside of Paris. His designs of ready-to-wear fashions that were semi-fitted became increasingly popular throughout Europe and he decided to travel to the United States to show his fashions.
In 1966, Cardin traveled to New York City to show his women's fashions to American customers and designers and upon arriving at the airport in New York, he saw the bright colors of the automobiles in the parking lot. He later remarked to an interviewer that: "It confirms my instinct that color-lots of it-is the most essential thing in today's world." His designs for women were and immediate success and would lead him to open a store dedicated to these fashions in the city. He also launched a line of children's clothes which became almost as popular as his designs for adults. For these and other designs, he was awarded the Golden Spinning Wheel Award by the town of Krefeld, Germany in 1966.
Following his successes in America, Cardin traveled to Japan with the same success. His fashions were highly popular and their easy fit and bright colors became popular with Japanese women. Cardin liked the more traditional lines of Japanese clothing and their influence would continue to make an impression on him throughout the years. Their influence would be seen in many of his later creations as models often wear Japanese hairpieces. He has returned to Japan several times, once at the invitation of the Japanese government.
Highly Decorated Designer
By the 1970s, Cardin was regarded among one of the top fashion designers in the world and was awarded many times for his designs. In 1973, Cardin received the Basilica Palladiana Award for the most successful Venetian that year. In 1974, Cardin was awarded the EUR Award, which is the equivalent of an Italian Academy Award, for his varied and successful enterprises in the world of entertainment. In 1977, Cardin received the Golden Thimble of French Haute-Couture Award, made by Cartier, as designing the most creative collection of the season. He would go on to win this award two more times, once in 1979 and again in 1982. It was also in 1977 that he purchased the Maxim's chain of stores and turned them into a unique line of boutiques to sell his designs.
In 1980, Cardin celebrated 30 years in the industry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and opened a new office building in New York City to handle his growing American enterprises. In 1985, Cardin was awarded the Fashion Oscar at the Paris Opera and later, was named as a Commander of the Order of Merit by the President of France. In 1988 he was awarded the Grand Order of Merit by the Italian Republic and, in 1991, was promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honor in France. It was also in 1991 that he was promoted to an officer in the Legion of Honor in France and received the Gold and Silver Star of the Japanese Sacred Treasure, that nation's highest honor. In 1992, Cardin accepted a seat in the French Academy of Fine Arts as the nations highest-ranking fashion designer.
To commemorate the XXVI Olympic Games being held in Atlanta, Georgia, Cardin presented a fashion show starring his new Sportif designs. The Sportif line of clothes for men and women was a tremendous success and spawned a line of Sportif fragrance for men. later that year, Cardin put on an exhibition by painter Daniel You called Les Dieux de Olympe.
In 1996, Cardin was awarded the France-Italie Prize by the Italian chamber of commerce in France. Cardin was also asked by the Chinese government to design uniforms for its public servants in 1996. Soon the People's Liberation Army, as well as railway, airline and post office workers, were sporting Cardin designs at their job. In January of 1997, Cardin was decorated as a Commander of the Legion of Honor in France, that nation's highest honor.
Cardin continued to live and work in Paris, constantly designing and innovating his many lines of clothing, footwear, perfume and hats.
Pierre Cardin Death
Cardin died on December 29, 2020 at the age of 98. His designs and his commercial success ensure he will be remembered as a legend among French fashion designers.
Further Reading on Pierre Cardin
Contemporary Designers, St. James Press, 1997.
Contemporary Fashion, St. James Press, 1995.
Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1996.
Daily News Record, June 5, 1996.
Women's Wear Daily, January 7, 1994; February 24, 1995; October 27, 1997.
"Cardin, Pierre," A & E Biography Website, http://www.biography.com (March 18, 1998).