Remembering Legendary French Fashion Designer Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin unfortunately passed away this week at the age of 98, but his legacy in 1960’s and 70’s fashion will truly last a lifetime.

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French Designer Pierre Cardin threw European fashion for a loop in the 1960’s and 70’s by introducing his futuristic and modern looks to the runway. His death was announced this week by France’s Fine Arts Academy via Twitter. His family told the French media that Cardin passed away in a hospital near Paris. 

While the news of his death is sad, remembering the amazing impact he had on the industry is comforting, as it lets us know that his legacy is far from over, and will act as inspiration for new designers for decades to come. Cardin was mainly known for his bold and modern “space-age” designs in the late 1950’s, that were anything but standard for the time. 

However, as time went on his abstract designs caught media attention, and by the 60’s he was dressing stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, and even the Beatles. In fact, the famous collarless jackets that the Beatles wore on the Ed Sullivan Show were inspired by Cardin, and became the new standard for a generation of English men who wanted to be more like their favorite rock band. Cardin’s business sense, however, is what really helped skyrocket his career into becoming more of a household name. 

“Licensing and affixing his name – and often just initials – on to everyday items such as pens, clocks, trousers and shoes, and later hotels, perfumes and restaurants, he became a branding pioneer.”

To the average individual at the time, Cardin was introducing the world of high fashion to the general masses and populations of people that would typically view designer fashion as inaccessible for them. He became known as the “Napoleon of licenses.” He once famously spoke with the media outlets about how “ready-to-wear clothes were thought to kill your name, and it saved ” his, as he was able to bring the Pierre Cardin-brand to over 140 countries. 

Cardin was originally born in Italy near the city of Treviso in 1922. He’s the youngest of 11 children, and when he was a child his family moved to France as a means of escaping Missolini’s regime. He grew up in the French industrial town of Saint Étienne, which contributed to his love of fashion, despite his parents hoping it would inspire him to become an architect. 

“Italian by birth, Pierre Cardin never forgot his origins while bringing unconditional love to France,” his family said in a statement released with his death. It’s believed that by the age of 17, Cardin was already working as a tailor for the Red Cross and that was his initial job working in “fashion.” Once he was older he moved to Paris where he worked on the set of the film “Beauty and the Beast” alongside the original poet, artist, and director Jean Cocteau in 1947. Cocteau would then introduce Cardin to Christian Dior, and by 1950 Cardin had established his own label. 

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“By 1959 he was showing ready-to-wear for women at the department stores, shocking Paris’s fashion establishment, which had thus far managed to keep the everyday consumer away from couture.”

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According to sources at the time, Cardin was, in a way, blacklisted by a “rarefied guild of French fashion designers.” However, a year after he introduced ready-to-wear women’s fashion into department stores, he would do the same for menswear, in a cutting edge collection that included the iconic collarless jackets that went on to inspire the Beatles. 

As his career progressed so did his interest in futurism, and bringing that into the world of fashion. His shows would have models dressed in knitted catsuits, space helmets, geometric garments, and both men and women in avant garde tunics, which was thought to set a precedent for unisex fashion in general. 

Then, in 1969 while he was in the midst of a career high, NASA contacted him and asked to commission a spacesuit design. This was inspired by Cardin’s consistent philosophy that his fashion and designs are invented “for a life that does not yet exist.” In 1979 Cardin became the first French designer to trade with China and in 1983 he was the first to trade with the Soviet Union. He also was the first designer in general to hold a fashion show in the middle of Red Square, Moscow, where 200,000 individuals showed up to watch back in 1991. 

It’s no secret that Cardin’s impact has caused a massive ripple effect in the world of modern fashion. By introducing designer brands and ready-to-wear garments into establishments for everyday people, he created a legacy of accessibility, regardless of the brand name. Cardin’s family recently released a statement after his death, praising the designer for his “tenacious ambition and the daring he has shown throughout his life, as well as his contribution early on into the flow of globalization.”