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Beyond the cosmos: Pierre Cardin in his own words

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To mark the future-facing fashion pioneer’s passing, we trace his life through some of his most iconic, memorable quotes

Today the fashion industry is mourning the loss of Italian couturier, Pierre Cardin, who passed away on Tuesday (Dec 29) at the age of 98. Bursting onto the scene way back in the mid-1950s, the designer reshaped fashion through his forward-thinking, cosmos-inspired creations and his unique approach to building a label. In honour of his inimitable influence on the fashion landscape as we now know it, here we trace his life – and 70-year-long career – through some of his most iconic quotes.

“A fortune teller – a sixty-five-year-old woman in Vichy – read my cards and told me that I would be successful, exceptionally successful, and that my name would be known as far away as Australia. I thought she was crazy because, at that time, I didn’t have anything. I asked her for a name in Paris so I could get started with a fashion house” – 2014

Born in Italy in 1922, Cardin got his start in 1945 when he scored a job at French fashion house Paquin, before he went on to cut his teeth in Elsa Schaparelli’s atelier. Soon after, he ran into legendary filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who enlisted him to create costumes for a production of Beauty and The Beast. Luckily, the costumes went over well, and the director introduced Cardin to luxury designer Christian Dior (casual) who took him on as a tailor. After five years of work, Dior helped the young designer launch his own boutique, Eve, which immediately became a success.

“The clothes that I prefer are those I invent for a life that doesn’t exist yet – the world of tomorrow” – speaking ahead of a retrospective at London’s V&A in 1990 

Alongside fellow designers Paco Rabanne and André Courrèges, Cardin pioneered the space age look which took off in the 60s – creating futuristic avant-garde designs unlike anything seen before. “I was inspired by satellites. By lasers. By the moon. I look into the future. I was never inspired by a woman’s body. My dresses are like sculptures. I molded them and then I put a woman into it. It was more like architecture or art,” he noted. Later on, Cardin even designed a custom spacesuit for NASA, because… why not?

“(When I started out I designed for) neither a woman nor a universe. Rather a shape, a volume. An idea, a silhouette. Wearable, mostly wearable” – L’Officiel, 2020

The designer also took the lead in creating unisex, genderless designs in fashion – dating back to his collections in the late 1960s, which saw men and women alike slip into knit bodysuits layered up with skirts, aprons, accessories, and thigh-high boots.

“Back in the day, I dressed The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I have always designed very provocative clothes for young people” WWD, 2010

Besides changing the course of fashion, throughout his career Cardin created looks for a number of celebrities. Other early highlights in his career included dressing actress Elizabeth Taylor and American first lady Jackie Kennedy. In recent years, the fashion house dressed Lady Gaga in 2010 in a gold dress with a skirt made from circular hoops, and a matching overexaggerated hat from its SS09 RTW collection.

“I’ve done it all! I even have my own water! I’ll do perfumes, sardines. Why not? During the war, I would have rather smelled the scent of sardines than of perfume. If someone asked me to do toilet paper, I’d do it” The New York Times

Going beyond the realms of Haute Couture, Cardin launched his first RTW collection in 1963, despite being told that it would kill his label. Turns out his critics were wrong: the line was a major success for the designer, democratising high fashion for everyday wear. “There’s no house in the world with more styles than the House of Cardin,” he said in the 2019 film House of Cardin. The designer wasn’t wrong – he also manufactured over 800 household objects from socks and glasses, to monochromatic bedside tables, futuristic lamps, and even a Pierre Cardin sandwich toaster. A true pioneer of the licensing deals the industry is built on over 50 years down the line.

“When I did the ‘PC’ logo, it was a scandal! I had a big ‘PC’ on my chest, and people said, ‘How dare you put your initials on a garment!’ And now it’s Chanel on the shoe, on the bag! We’re labeled to death!” – The New York Times, 2002

Perhaps we also can thank Cardin for fashion’s logomania addiction (or not, depending on your outlook). Before Supreme, Dior, Balenciaga, or even Chanel splattered their monograms all over their clothing, the Italian designer began stamping his own initials across his work – again opposing the major criticism he faced at the time. 

“(The Palais Bulles) is a living sculpture, it’s quite magical” – L’Officiel, 2020

It goes without saying you’ll have seen this one lurking on at least one or two IG inspo accounts at some point. Adding to his list of unconventional accomplishments, Cardin also designed his iconic home, the Palais Bulles (Bubble Palace), located just outside Cannes. Throughout the years the Palais has played host to countless glam fashion parties, seen designer Jacquemus swing by on his summer holidays, and become the unconventional location of Raf Simons’ 2016 Dior Resort runway show. 

It’s not just his home that inspired countless young designers though. Cardin’s vast archives have gone on to influence everyone from Hedi Slimane and Miuccia Prada, to Jean Paul Gaultier, whose first job in fashion just so happened to see him working under Cardin. “Pierre Cardin is a marvel. I find it normal to pay homage to a designer who has opened so many doors for all of us,” Gaultier explained after his final runway show in January.

”There’s a lassitude in fashion today. There are too many collections and designers. Look at them, they’re mixed up. They don’t know what’s modern. They do a collection of Marie Antoinette and mix it with all of these other references. But you never know, maybe I would do the same thing if I was starting today. Perhaps I’m just lucky. I lived in extraordinary times” – WWD, 2020

While Cardin was always quick to champion young designers – including Simon Porte Jacquemus, who he sat down in conversation with for L’Officiel just a few months ago – in his later years he wasn’t always that inspired by what the fashion landscape looks like – claiming the industry is more ‘about cabaret than it is about creativity’. Where did things go wrong? That leads us onto the next quote, in which he made his feelings about one specific garment perfectly clear…

“The jean! The jean is a dictator! It is a destructor! It is destroying creativity” – Dazed, 2005

In 2005, the designer told Dazed about his passionate hatred for jeans. Explaining them to be the greatest fashion killer, his comments offered a taste of his characteristic outspoken nature, which will be greatly missed. Whether they’re creating jeans or not, we hope to see his wild legacy continue inspiring young designers for years to come.