Cardin, Pierre

views updated Jun 08 2018


During the last half of the twentieth century, Pierre Cardin (1922–) became a prominent and widely admired designer as well as a highly successful businessman. Cardin is known for his acute intuition, which often made him a trendsetter and design leader. Cardin has expanded his design operations far beyond fashions for both men and women to encompass all aspects of modern living. The name Cardin has become synonymous with his brand as he has expanded his commercial operations through timely licensing. As of the early 2000s, Cardin's corporate empire held 900 licenses for production in 140 countries.

Early Training

Born in Italy of French parents on 2 July 1922, the designer was originally named Pietro Cardini. After several years in Venice, however, his family relocated to France. As a young man Cardin briefly studied architecture before joining the house of Paquin in 1945. His tenure there gave him the opportunity of working with Christian Bérard and Jean Cocteau on the 1946 film La Belle et la bête, for which he created the velvet costume for the Beast, played by Jean Marais. After a brief stint with Elsa Schiaparelli, Cardin worked under the auspices of Christian Dior from 1946 until he went out on his own in 1950. Cardin honed his superb tailoring skills heading up Dior's coat and suit workroom. Cardin's own business was first located on the rue Richepanse (renamed rue du Chevalier de Saint-George), but later moved to the famed rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where the designer launched his first couture collection in 1953. In 1954 Cardin opened a boutique called Eve, followed by Adam for men in 1957.

From the beginning, Cardin showed himself to be an innovator and a rebel. He was quoted as saying, "For me, the fabric is nearly secondary. I believe first in shape, architecture, the geometry of a dress" (Lobenthal, p. 151). His experimentation with fabrics embraced geometric abstraction without losing sight of the human figure.

Cardin's ability to sculpt fabric with an architectural sensibility became his signature. Making garments with impeccable craftsmanship, Cardin possessed the skills and vision to make his dreams a wearable reality. Even during the 1970s, when his dresses shifted from a sculpted look to a more draped silhouette, the fluidity of his work remained formal. Cardin was highly successful as a couturier, but he also sought to redefine the field of fashion design commercially. For his efforts in launching a ready-to-wear line alongside his couture collection, however, Cardin's membership in the prestigious Chambre Syndicale was revoked in 1959. Cardin was soon reinstated, but voluntarily resigned from the Chambre in 1966.

Cardin's Men's Wear

Cardin's early training as a tailor's apprentice shaped his approach to fashion design for men as he matured throughout the 1950s. Cardin deconstructed the traditional business suit. He subtracted collars, cuffs, and lapels, creating one of the most compelling images of the early 1960s. This look became instantly famous when Dougie Millings, the master tailor who made stage outfits for numerous British rock musicians, dressed the Beatles in his version of matching collarless suits.

Cardin's men's wear line was housed in a separate building on the Place Beauvau by 1962. He was inspired by his travels; after seeing the traditional high-collared jacket of India and Pakistan, he distilled its form into another popular innovation in men's fashions of the 1960s, the so-called Nehru jacket. Cardin further disrupted men's customary suiting by heralding the wearing of neck scarves in place of ties, and turtlenecks instead of button-down shirts. Yet he also was capable of designing men's clothing in the classic tradition, such as the costumes worn by the character John Steed in the British television series The Avengers.

Space Age and Unisex Styles

Advances in fabric production and technology during the 1960s coincided with a widespread fascination with space exploration. Cardin's Space Age or Cosmocorps collection of 1964 synthesized his streamlined, minimal dressing for both men and women. This body-skimming apparel resembling uniforms featured cutouts inspired by op art. Cardin was innovative in his use of vinyl and metal in combination with wool fabric. Not just unisex, Cardin's clothing often seemed asexual. Unlike such other fashion minimalists as Rudi Gernreich and André Courrèges, Cardin did not promote pants for women. He often used monotone-colored stockings or white patterned tights to compliment his minidresses. The "Long Longuette," which was dubbed the maxidress, was Cardin's 1970 response to the miniskirt. In 1971, Cardin obtained an exclusive agreement with a German firm to use its stretch fabric, declaring that "stretch fabrics would revolutionize fashion" (Weir, p. 5). Continuing his reputation as a trendsetter, he showed white cotton T-shirts paired with couture gowns on the runway in 1974 and introduced exaggerated shoulders in 1979.

Licensing and Global Marketing

Cardin learned much about the business side of fashion from his mentor Christian Dior. Dior had been very successful in trading on his name to license his designs internationally. Cardin took this approach further when he sought and found a global acceptance of his designs in countries as diverse as the Soviet Union, India, and Japan. Cardin was an exponent of what is now called branding long before other fashion designers followed suit. He was the first designer to sell ready-to-wear clothing in the Soviet Union as early as 1971. While Cardin's men's wear lines were ultimately more successful than his women's fashions in the United States during the 1970s, he still owned more than two hundred American retail outlets. Cardin was embraced by the Japanese market with special enthusiasm. At the peak of his expansion in 1969, Cardin boasted of having 192 factories throughout the world.

Cardin's fashion empire spanned the globe with his trademark licensing as of the early 2000s. Products identified by the Cardin brand ranged from accessories and handbags to home interiors, luxury cars, and luggage, as well as to such personal items as Fashion Tress wigs, introduced in 1973. The ubiquitous brand name was recognized around the world. As Caroline Milbank stated, "It is difficult to name something that Pierre Cardin has yet to design or transform with his imprint" (Milbank, p. 338). In 1971, Cardin transformed the former Théâtre des Ambassadeurs into L'Espace Cardin to promote new talent in performance art and fashion design. Cardin capitalized again on his fame in 1981 by purchasing Maxim's, the famous Paris restaurant, and using its name to build a worldwide chain of restaurants in the mid-1980s.

Brand Identity and Logos

During the early 1960s, Cardin was a pioneer in designing clothing conspicuously adorned with his company's logo. This trend was picked up by many other designers from the 1970s onward. Cardin's logos, consisting of his initials or a circular bull's eye, were often three-dimensional vinyl appliqués or quilted directly into the garment. Cardin's unrestrained licensing, while symbolic of his success, may have resulted in untimely diluting his name brand image.

"The job of fashion is not just to make pretty suits or dresses, it is to change the face of the world by cut and line. It is to make another aspect of men evident."

Pierre Cardin (in Lobenthal, p. 153)

Many fashion writers criticized Cardin for overexposure, especially given the very rapid expansion of his product lines during the 1980s and 1990s. Nevertheless, Cardin's name was known throughout the world, and identified by the public with quality and high standards. Cardin stood out as one of the most complex designers of the twentieth century because he was one of a handful who understood that fashion is above all a business. His skills as an entrepreneur, and especially his creative licensing, made Pierre Cardin one of the richest people in the fashion world.

See alsoBrands and Labels; Dior, Christian; Fashion Marketing and Merchandising; Logos; Nehru Jacket; Paquin, Jeanne; Paris Fashion; Schiaparelli, Elsa; Space Age Styles; Unisex Clothing; Vinyl as Fashion Fabric .


Lobenthal, Joel. Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.

Lynam, Ruth, ed. Couture: An Illustrated History of the Great Paris Designers and Their Creations. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972.

Mendes, Valerie. Pierre Cardin: Past, Present, Future. London and Berlin: Dirk Nishen Publishing, 1990.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. Couture: The Great Designers. New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, Inc., 1985.

Weir, June. "Cardin Today … A New Freedom." Women's Wear Daily (26 January 1971): 5.

Myra Walker

Cardin, Pierre

views updated May 17 2018

CARDIN, Pierre

French designer

Born: Son of French parents, born in San Andrea da Barbara, Italy, 2 July 1922. Education: Studied architecture, Saint-Etienne, France.Military: Served in the Red Cross, World War II. Career: Worked as a bookkeeper and tailor's cutter, Vichy, 1936-40; Apprentice, Manby men's tailor, Vichy, 1939; design assistant, working for the Madame Paquin and Elsa Schiaparelli fashion houses, Paris, 1945-46; head of workrooms, Christian Dior fashion house, Paris, 1946-50, began costume designing for films, from 1946; helping to design "New Look" in 1947; founder/director and chief designer, Pierre Cardin fashion house, Paris, from 1950, presented first collection, 1951; opened up market in Japan, 1958; first ready-to-wear collection introduced, 1959; marketed own fabric, Cardine, 1968; children's collection introduced, 1969; created Espace Cardin, 1970; special Atlanta showing, pre-Olympic Games, 1996; launched Orphee, 1998; new cultural center named for Cardin, Saint-Ouen, France, 2000; decided to sell and sought buyer for firm. Exhibitions: Pierre Cardin: Past, Present and Future, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, October-January 1990-91. Awards: Sunday Times International Fashion award (London), 1963; Dé d'Or award, 1977, 1979, 1982; named Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, 1983; Fashion Oscar, Paris, 1985; Foundation for Garment and Apparel Advancement award, Tokyo, 1988; named Grand Officer, Order of Merit, Italy, 1988; named Honorary Ambassador to UNESCO, 1991. Address: 82 rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris, France. Website:




Picken, Mary Brooks, and Dora L. Miller, Dressmakers of France, New York, 1956.

Bender, Marylin, The Beautiful People, New York, 1967.

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Carter, Ernestine, Magic Names of Fashion, London, 1980.

Pierre Cardin [exhibition catalogue], Tokyo, 1982.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, Couture: The Great Designers, New York, 1985.

Guillen, Pierre-Yves, and Jacqueline Claude, The Golden Thimble: French Haute Couture, Paris, 1990.

Mendes, Valerie, Pierre Cardin: Past, Present, Future, London, 1990, 1991.

Morais, Richard, Pierre Cardin: The Man Who Became a Label, London, 1991.


Parinaud, A., "Cardin Interviewed," in Arts (Paris), 11 September 1981.

Corbett, Patricia, "All About Cardin," in Connoisseur (London), January 1986.

Beurdley, Laurence, "Pierre Cardin fête ses quarante ans de création," in L'Officiel (Paris), May 1990.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, "Pierre Cardin," in Vogue, September 1990.

Watt, Judith, "The World According to Pierre Cardin," in The Guardian (London), 24 September 1990.

Etherington-Smith, Meredith, "Pierre Pressure," in Correpondent Magazine (London), 30 September 1990.

Bowles, Hamish, "Pierre the Great," in Harpers & Queen (London), October 1990.

McDowell, Colin, "The Pierre Show," in the Daily Telegraph (London), 6 October 1990.

Rambali, Paul, "Pierre Cardin," in Arena (London), November 1990.

Niland, Seta, "Cardin Seeks to Widen Profile," in Fashion Weekly (London), 6 June 1991.

Pogoda, Dianne M., "Cardin Collection: Coming to America," in Women's Wear Daily, 24 March 1992.

"Pierre Cardin Shows Collection in Atlanta," in Women's Wear Daily, 16 July 1996.

Raper, Sarah, "Cardin Looks to Future of Firm," in Women's Wear Daily, 17 March 1999.

Menkes, Suzy, "Fifty Years a Futurist," in the International Herald Tribune, 18 April 2000.

"Pierre Cardin Denies Reports (to Split Up Business)," in Women's Wear Daily, 5 December 2000.

* * *

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 that stands away from the body thereby produces its own structural outline. From the balloon dress of 1959 that delineated the body only at the pull of a drawstring at the hem, through the geometrically blocked shifts of the 1960s to his series of hooped dresses in the 1980s, Cardin obliquely describes the underlying form of the body, creating planes that intersect with, yet somehow remain disconnected from, the body itself.

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."

Caroline Cox;

updated by Sydonie Benét

Pierre Cardin

views updated May 11 2018

Pierre Cardin

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 nations 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 it's 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 nations highest honor.

Cardin lives and works in Paris, constantly designing and innovating his many lines of clothing, footwear, perfume and hats. His designs and his commercial success have made him one of the living legends among French fashion designers.

Further Reading

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, (March 18, 1998).

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