French couturier Pierre Cardin, avant-garde designer was known for his space-age inspired dresses and geometric patterns during the 1960s then subsequently for his mega licensing business empire that covered almost everything you could imagine.
Born as an Italian in 1922, Cardin moved to France with his parents at a young age as they were fleeing away from Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy. Eventually, Cardin’s family settled in St. Etienne, a mining town at the eastern central part of France. From a young age, Cardin has always been interested in fashion and this passion saw him set his sights on becoming a tailor. He worked for several prestigious couture houses including that of Paquin, Schiaparelli and Dior. At Dior, he headed the tailoring atelier in creating Christian Dior’s “new look” and making a name for himself.
In 1950, after leaving the couture house, Cardin decided to set up his own label, carving out his own career path in Paris . He was extremely successful, creating a multitude of pieces that were ahead of his time. His fame saw him dressing celebrities and artists such as The Beatles, who adored his high-collared suit following his already famous design, the “bubble dress” became a hit in 1954. These achievements cemented him as a designer who has a unique set of viewpoints, uncommon during that period.
Besides cementing himself as a fashion-forward designer, Cardin also had the foresight of a businessman. He is said to be the first designer to bring luxury fashion to the masses through releasing a ready-to-wear collection as opposed to tailored-made pieces that have defined fashion’s mode of operation for a long time. His first prêt-à-porter collection was launched at Printemps department store in Paris, soon after many fashion brands followed suit.
Aside from being the pioneer in launching a prêt-à-porter collection, Cardin was also the first luxury fashion brand to do licensing. His brand’s name would be stamped on various items including pens, cutlery, furniture and wigs, to name a few out of the over 800 licenses that are found in more than 120 countries. This move, however, has cheapened Cardin’s branding but he was unfazed and remarked that “my aim is to boost sales and to raise my profile among young people”. Revenues came rolling in and with that money he bought hotels and restaurants, adding even more brands under his profile.
The entire fashion industry mourns the death of such a visionary figure and many designers including Jean Paul Gautier, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Kim Jones have all paid tribute to this legendary designer. He died in a hospital in Neuilly, west of Paris on December 29 2020. He was 98 years old. Images courtesy of Pierre Cardin/AP/ Getty Images.