8 Ways Pierre Cardin Changed Contemporary Fashion
Throughout his career, Cardin has challenged conventions with an experimental, space-age aesthetic that seems to look good on everyone -- Jackie Kennedy, The Beatles, and Bridget Bardot have worn his clothes.
“Fashion has to be for tomorrow, not yesterday,” French fashion designer Pierre Cardin said in a 2012 interview. “I’m not classic at all, if I was classic, I wouldn’t have so many risks in my life.”
Cardin grew up in Vichy, France, in the 1930s and was trained as a tailor. He served in the Red Cross during the Second World War, then moved to Paris to work at the Maison Paquin and Elsa Schiaparelli before joining Christian Dior in 1947. In 1950, Cardin founded his own fashion house, designing costumes then haute couture, where he broke ground with his space-age designs in the 1960s. He has always loved geometry and architecture, which lent to his 1964 collection “Cosmocorps,” in which he created futuristic designs based on metallic fabrics, oversized zippers, vinyl garments and hats that looked like astronaut helmets.
The Brooklyn Museum is opening a retrospective of Cardin’s most compelling pieces in Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion, which opens July 20.
The 97-year-old designer will feature 170 pieces over his 70-year career—from haute couture to ready-to-wear, chunky jewelry and rare photos, as well as hats, jewelry, shoes, and sunglasses shown alongside archival photographs and excerpts from TV shows, documentaries, and feature films.
“Throughout his decades-long career, Pierre Cardin has proved to be a master tailor and designer, as well as an intuitive businessman,” said Matthew Yokobosky, a fashion curator at the Brooklyn Museum. “He truly is a 20th-century renaissance man whose work has advanced fashion and design, while continuously giving society a new and breathtaking vision of what the future might look like.”
Cardin has constantly challenged conventions with experimental design, unconventional business branding and a love of the avant-garde—everyone from Jackie Kennedy to The Beatles and Bridget Bardot have worn his clothes. Here are eight ways that he broke the rules in fashion and had an enduring influence.
1. His futuristic designs put him on the map
Cardin made his for futuristic designs, which made him one of the most influential—and longstanding—designers of his generation. His futuristic, space-age designs were an instant hit around the world with geometric shapes, modular forms and a connection to the Space Race in the 1960s, which fueled his designs. His futuristic sensibility led him to a tour of the NASA headquarters, where he became the only non-astronaut, at the time in 1971, to put on an actual space suit from Apollo 11 (this exhibit commemorates the 50thanniversary of the moon landing). His work has fueled the imagination of outer space and science fiction filmmakers.
2. He created the first menswear runway show
“Before me, nobody created clothes for men before I did, they only had tailors,” said Cardin. In 1958, he created the first ever menswear fashion show in Paris by featuring 250 young students on his runway. It was part of his segue into unisex design, to pioneer menswear with his collarless suit jacket, slender “cylinder” pants, and jackets with football player shoulders. He also made menswear athletic, a sort of precursor to streetwear.
3. Ready-to-wear saved his career
Cardin went against the grain, especially when it came to going global. He was the first designer to do ready-to-wear fashion. “They said it would kill your name, and it saved me,” Cardin once said. His ready-to-wear collection debuted at Printemps, a Parisian department store, in 1958. It was a turning point for the designer to sell clothes in a commonplace setting, something frowned upon by the fashion industry at the time but is something most designers do today. He helped make elegance affordable and this trend picked up worldwide.
4. He was the first designer to put his logo on his designs
In the 1960s, Cardin was the first fashion designer to make his logo on the exterior of his garments, making them instantly recognizable to fans of his work. This was not commonplace at the time and was viewed by some as tacky, but is commonplace now. Still, he feels his design speaks beyond his label. “Fashion design is so diverse,” said Cardin. “Design is about being recognized without a label. Elegance alone is not sufficient.”
5. He pioneered unisex fashion
His ‘Cosmos’ collection of 1964 was a breakthrough about unisex garments, breaking through the housewife stereotype established in the 1950s for something more experimental. He reshaped the body, leading to his signature biomorphic dresses, which went against the hourglass silhouette. His design followed the women’s lib movement of the 1960s, freeing women from cliché stereotypes. Cardin was part of a new generation of space-age designers, like André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, Rudi Gernreich, Reed Crawford and Giancarlo Zanatta. “The dress is a vase which the body follows,” Cardin once said. “My clothes are like modules in which bodies move.” In the 1970s and 1980s, Cardin designed jackets and coats with outlandish shoulder details that called to mind football uniforms.
6. He was the first fashion designer to license his name
To expand his expansive brand on a global scale, Cardin licensed his brand name in 1968. He licensed his brand to include space-age furniture and light fixtures and futuristic crockery, which led him to design cars, ballpoint pens, scents and beyond. Over 800 licenses exist under Cardin’s name. In the 1980s, he bought the Maxim’s restaurant chain in Paris, expanding to Brussels and China, helping him become the wealthiest European designer in the 1980s, with a net worth of $10 million.
7. He was one of the first to bring fashion abroad
Cardin was one of the first European designers to show in Asia, including Japan, China, Russia, and Vietnam. His runway shows made headlines, like in 1979 when he held a runway show with 300 looks on the Great Wall of China, or in Moscow’s Red Square in 1991, which was attended by over 200,000 people.
8. He was one of the first fashion designers to expand into homeware
Long before Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana had their own housewares, Cardin broke out of the fashion mold and started designing spaceship furniture, cars, pens, and interiors, as well as what the designer calls “couture furniture,” or home décor. It comes from his compulsion to create. “When I finish with one thing very well, I start some other thing,” said Cardin. Today, he still walks to his office and design works even in his later years. “I don’t like to stop,” he adds. “I like to continually prove myself.”
Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion runs at the Brooklyn Museum through January 5, 2020.
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