Cardin broke tradition and built an empire. He also designed clothes
A Pierre Cardin pen occupies pride of place in the shirt pockets of middle-class India, a symbol of having arrived, of being ready to take on the world, aided by luxurious French stationary. Cardin himself, who died this week at the age of 98, would have approved. The Italian-born designer, who became a naturalised French citizen, wanted to make fashion accessible to all. For him, fashion was meant to trickle down to the masses. Many today associate his name with luxurious stationery, but Cardin’s design empire encompassed a wide range of products — from cigarettes, baseball caps, perfumes and cosmetics to, of course, clothes.
When Cardin first broke tradition to forsake couture and start designing pret-a-porter or ready-to-wear clothing, the fashion world was chagrined and he was ousted from the Chambre Syndicale, the governing body of fashion in France. The designer did not care, as he had pioneered a movement which would later become fashion’s true money-maker. He was not ashamed to put his name on his products, flaunting it with aplomb. The result was monogrammed, off-the-shelf clothes, that sold for about one-tenth the price of their couture cousins.
His father had wanted him to study architecture, but Cardin had a single-minded focus on dressmaking. But his late father’s ambition for him seemed to have left an impression, for the designer often turned to architecture and geometry to find inspiration for his creations, such as his bubble-dress — a loose outfit with a pinched waist that blossomed out again and tightened at the knees, resulting in a silhouette that resembled the infinity symbol. Cardin was also hugely inspired by space, and he designed a space suit in the 1970s after his visit to NASA. The next time you wear an off-the-rack garment by an haute couture brand, you’ll be paying tribute to Cardin’s legacy.
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