Space Age designs by Pierre Cardin. Photo: Archives Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin: An Out-of-this- World Designer

By KELIN DILLON

Though legendary Italian-French designer Pierre Cardin passed away this past Dec. 29, his legacy remains forever cemented in the hallowed halls of bygone fashion titans with his iconic, larger-than-life designs and ambitious business choices.

Born in 1922 in Italy, Cardin’s parents settled in France after the First World War, with him and his 10 siblings, where they encouraged a young Cardin to become an architect. He, however, had aspirations to become a dressmaker, and moved to Paris in 1945 to work under the renowned Christian Dior before opening a fashion house of his own in 1950.

Cardin in his atelier, 1957. Photo: Archives Pierre Cardin

“Designers like Pierre Cardin are the future of haute couture,” Dior said about his protégée at the time. 

Despite close ties with perennial European fashion houses, Cardin carved out his own path as a celebrated designer in his own right.

Cardin revolutionized the fashion industry with his focus on ready-to-wear, initially drawing the ire of his haute couture dedicated contemporaries, until they followed in his footsteps upon the realization of just how lucrative that market could be, something Cardin had long since recognized.

The French-naturalized visionary soared to popularity in mainstream fashion with his invention of the bubble skirt, a design where the hem of a skirt is tucked under itself and sewed back into the inside of the garment to create a balloon-like effect. Cardin had continued success with his creation of the mod chic trend in the 1960s into the 1970s, a movement consisting of geometric and structured designs that became his signature. 

The famous bubble skirt. Photo: Archives Pierre Cardin

Cardin blazed a trail globally, expanding his brand out from Europe across the sea, into peoples’ homes, and even into outer space.

Cardin’s name is oft-synonymized with the Space Age fashion movement, which culminated in his collaboration with NASA in 1970, when he designed spacesuits for its aeronautics program. Cardin was granted the privilege of trying on the very spacesuit Neil Armstrong had worn walking on the moon during NASA’s Apollo 11 mission the year prior.

He also helped in the popularization of menswear, an area of fashion often overlooked at the time, creating lapel-less and collarless jackets that gained so much popularity that another group of 60s icons, The Beatles, tapped Cardin to dress them for their international tours.

The designer reached such levels of international regard that he was requested to redesign the national costume of the Philippines, and even created a very successful line of uniforms for Pakistan Airways.

Space Age pieces from Pierre Cardin’s 1970 collection. Photo: Archives Pierre Cardin

The Italian-born designer was one of the first mainstream western fashion creators to eye the continent of Asia as a potential fashion goldmine, expanding his haute couture line to Japan in 1957. Cardin’s early introduction into Japan helped grow the country into the leading fashion market in Asia, where it still remains to this day.

Cardin had ambitions beyond fashion, licensing his name for the branding of furniture, sunglasses, perfumes, to the point where the designer’s label could even be found on baseball caps and pens. While some criticized this as cheapening his name, Cardin’s brand became so widespread through the aforementioned licensing deals that he became a household name worldwide, outside of the fashion industry.

Cardin also dabbled in real estate, owning a restaurant and hotel chain, and even adding the estate of another historical rebel, the controversial Marquis de Sade, to his portfolio.

Cardin passed in Paris at the age of 98, having lived a full and illustrious life. His legacy is continued on through the work of his protégées, like Jean Paul Gaultier, and his contributions to bring the world of fashion into the modern age will never be forgotten as traces of his impact linger throughout the industry’s continued evolution.

…Jan. 5, 2020

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