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Film review: House of Cardin

The name Pierre Cardin is not associated with haute couture in the same way as say Valentino or Yves St Laurent, but a documentary about him is nevertheless a surprisingly fascinating portrait.

And in the tradition of documentaries about famed fashion designers, House of Cardin follows the same script, including interviews with a host of celebrities, models and other designers (mostly) heaping praise upon him. 

But what a fascinating script!

Cardin wasn’t known as a sartorial genius in the same way Valentino or Yves St Laurent were but he was a trailblazer in many ways. 

Millions know the iconic logo and ubiquitous signature but few know the man behind the larger than life label.

Cardin never attended fashion school; he started out as an employee at Paquin in Paris in 1945, working on the costumes for Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, then went to Schiaparelli. Cardin’s big break was with Christian Dior, who had just opened his own fashion house at 30 avenue Montaigne, where he helped create Dior’s famous ‘New Look’ collection of 1947.

Cardin designs: the ‘mod’ sixties look

However, while Dior designed beautifully fitted cuts that flattered the female form, Cardin wanted a looser, freer fit.

When he left Dior to start his own house, Cardin’s first collection was youthful, bold, sculptural, and colourful in design, creating the “mod” sixties look. You may even remember the bubble dress – it was Cardin’s. (I still have an eighties high street version.)

Cardin: leads the way

Cardin was one of the first to promote diversity, for example, by using students and Japanese models in photoshoots and on the runway. 

Cardin was also the first haute couture designer to create sunglasses, as well as the first to show a men’s line.

He designed those famous collarless suits for The Beatles.

And Cardin was the first high profile fashion designer to go to Japan, India, and China, where he held a fashion show using the Great Wall of China as a runway, and held the first fashion show in Russia’s Red Square.

Cardin also was one of the first to understand business opportunities in China.

Forty years ago, Pierre Cardin shops were everywhere; Chinese children knew his name so well they thought he was the president of France!

It’s this opportunistic approach to business that ruffled feathers when Cardin started slapping his name on mass produced accessories, everything from men’s perfume to key rings.

Of course, since then many designers have branched out into perfume and accessories, but not on such a grand scale.

Cardin: ruffled feathers and scandal

In 1959, he also created a scandal by being the first haute couture designer to introduce a ready-to-wear collection, for which he was temporarily thrown out of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

But Yves St Laurent soon followed with his own prêt-à-porter designs!

This takes the cake

One of my favourite stories was that after being ejected from Maxims in Paris for wearing a white roll neck top instead of a shirt, many years later Cardin bought the restaurant and still owns it today.

Cardin granted the directors exclusive access to his archives and empire. The film features interviews with a host of famous people including Sharon Stone, Alice Cooper, Naomi Campbell, Philippe Starck, Dionne Warwick, Kenzo Takada, Yumi Katsura, and Jean-Paul Gautier, who got his start with Cardin. 

Interestingly, Cardin was Italian (born Pietro Cardini) and his family migrated to France when he was a young boy to escape rising fascism under Mussolini. 

If this film gives you a taste for more things Cardin, there is also a Pierre Cardin museum in Paris to explore (some day, post covid!). 

Screening in cinemas now.


Have you seen the Cardin film or been to the museum in Paris? Do you have memories of Pierre Cardin’s designs?
Join the conversation below in comments or on twitter @MaVieFrancaise


Image credits:
House of Cardin official press


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