Focus on Fashion: Pierre Cardin

by Raymond


I’d like to continue our look back at the 60s with probably the most prolific of the 60s designers: Pierre Cardin. His career went well beyond the swinging 60s and spanned fashion, fragrance, house and home and food service. He is still going strong today.

Pierre Cardin was born in Venice on July 7, 1922. In 1926, his parents moved back to their native France where Cardin grew up in the industrial town of St. Etienne in the Loire Valley of 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. In 1936, Cardin began apprenticing in 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.




With the war almost over Cardin quit Manby's and took a job with the French Red Cross. This job brought him to Paris in late 1944. The 17 year-old Cardin stayed in Paris and began working for French fashion designer Paquin. Cardin met many intellectuals and heads of society. Using these connections, he began designing and making elaborate costumes for theatrical presentations and motion pictures.


In 1946, Cardin worked on French film director Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast." Cocteau was impressed with Cardin and introduced him to designer Christian Dior. Cardin was soon working for Dior and became one of the "team of thirteen" that would design much of Dior's line over the next few years and become associated with fashions post-war "New Look." There 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.

In 1949, Cardin left Dior and in 1950, with the help of Marcel Escoffier, struck out on his own and became a costume designer where he would design many costumes for the city's numerous balls and create his own line of suits for an ever-growing clientele. His work was widely seen and loved, and he was believed to be the best suit designer in Paris. Cardin purchased the entire building on Rue Riche Panse where he had started a few years earlier.

He moved to a six-story eighteenth century mansion on the very fashionable Faubourg Saint-Honore in 1953 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 ground floor. Unwilling to associate with traditional men's shirts and ties, Cardin divided his elegant house into two separate boutiques in 1954: "Adam" and "Eve." He then set about designing avant-garde ties, sweaters and suit jackets that became enormously popular in Europe.


In the summer of 1957, Cardin presented his first full fashion collection of over 120 styles. The show was an immediate success, and Cardin soon became a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. His equally successful show the following year solidified his reputation in the fashion world.

Throughout the 1960s Cardin continued to design clothes for both men and women that became increasingly fanciful and replete with bright colors. Knowing that not all of his customers would wear many of his avantgarde clothes, he soon began designing a separate and more traditional line for department stores. 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. His designs for women were an 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.

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.




By the 1970s, Cardin was regarded among one of the top fashion designers in the world and was awarded many times for his designs. Throughout the decade he was awarded the Basilica Palladiana Award, the EUR Award, which is the equivalent of an Italian Academy Award, 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. In 1977 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 nation’s highest-ranking fashion designer.

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 nation’s 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.