Pierre Cardin’s sprawling legacy of innovation might be hard to quantify, but a new tome from Assouline celebrating the 95-year-old designer, endeavours to do just that. Tracing a career that spans 70 years, the book outlines what it is that makes the influential designer’s work so compelling.
Cardin ‘infused his personality into his business’, Jean-Pascal Hesse writes in the book’s introduction. That infusion formed the DNA of Cardin’s brand: the geometry of his shapes and structures, and the relentless drive to experiment. The book surveys this, along with Cardin’s forward-facing philosophy of business. Consider his creation of what we would now term a lifestyle brand, something that in the 1960s was not de rigueur among France’s couturiers.
Stripe jersey bodysuits with wool strip skirts, Haute Couture A/W 1968
We are taken through the beginnings of Cardin’s influential career, from the Cosmocorps collections that made his name synonymous with the space age, through to furniture design and later experiments with structure, fabric and movement. But it’s the images from the 1960s that are among Cardin’s most loved from the book.
‘My favourite is obviously the period when I began to be known in my career for my very avant-gardist cuttings,’ he explains ahead of a Pierre Cardin pop-up shop at London’s Maison Assouline, opening today. ‘For example, the Cosmocorps line, which reminds me the conquest of space. I have always been marked by this opening towards space, the conquest of the moon.’
In an industry known for its obsession with newness and modernity, Cardin’s designs – the famous Bubble dress, or his Plexiglas jewellery – linger on in cultural memory as markers of innovation. And looking back, Cardin remembers the earliest days of his brand as being a fruitful, exhilarating time. ‘Undeniably at the beginning when I left Dior, I was motivated by a big ambition. I wanted to introduce my style more than anything.’
This is not the first Pierre Cardin book from Assouline, but as the designer points out, ‘it is a unique experience in the world of fashion to celebrate 70 years of design’, so this lengthy retrospective is merited. In a preface written by Marisa Berenson (granddaughter of Cardin’s former employer Elsa Schiaparelli), Cardin is described as ‘a man of paradoxes and contradictions... a man with no boundaries or limits in himself as in the universe’.
And Cardin’s work does not begin or end with clothing. Industrial design, furniture, interiors and automobiles all benefited from Cardin’s rigorous eye. But fashion is still at the centre of all that he does, even after 70 years. ‘Fashion is still the best way to express creative vision,’ he affirms. ‘I am first and foremost a fashion designer.’ But as Pierre Cardin shows, work across design fields is how he elucidates his vision of the world. ‘Fashion,’ he is quoted as saying, ‘is an X-ray of society.’ If that is indeed the case, then at its bones, Cardin’s society is rigorous, stylish and endlessly modern.