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Cardin, Pierre

cardin’s couture paris line

B. July 2, 1922

Birthplace: San Andrea da Barbara, Italy

Awards: Sunday Times International Fashion Award (London), 1963
         De d’Or Award, 1977, 1979, 1982
         Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur, 1983
         Fashion Oscar, Paris, 1985
         Golden Orchid Award for Maxim’s, 1985
         Foundation for Garment & Apparel Advancement Award, Tokyo, 1988
         Grand Officer, Order of Merit, Italy, 1988
         Honorary Ambassador to UNESCO, 1991

Pierre Cardin was born in Italy but spent most of his childhood in France. The Cardins knew their son was destined to be a designer; his interest in costume design and architecture was evident at an early age. Cardin’s parents supported his interest in design by enrolling him in architectural studies at the school of Saint Etienne in France. By the time Cardin was fourteen, he was working as an apprentice for Manby, a local tailor. Anxious to start his career, the seventeen-year-old Cardin was on his way to Paris when World War II erupted and he was enlisted. After the war, Cardin returned to Paris, anxious to launch his career in fashion. Cardin landed a series of positions with prominent couturiers, including Madame Paquin, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jean Cocteau, and Christian Bérard, which helped mold his design skills. He also spent four years at Christian Dior, from 1946 to 1950, designing coats and suits.

In 1950 Cardin established the House of Cardin. His first collection, presented in 1951, featured sculptured suits and coats in heavy weight wool with exaggerated details and geometric shapes. These style characteristics continued to be prevalent in Cardin’s future collections, in garments such as in his barrel coat with oversized roll collar in 1955 and in his balloon dresses in 1959. In 1957 Cardin was presented with a unique opportunity. He was invited to teach at the Bunka Fukusoi design school in Japan. His association with the school allowed him to be the first designer to form business relations with the Japanese market. When Cardin returned to Paris, he designed his first ready-to-wear collection which debuted in 1959 in Paris department store Printemps. Cardin was the first couturier to break tradition and design ready-to-wear clothing. This distinction earned him expulsion from the Chambre Syndicale. Cardin was reinstated to the Chambre Syndicale a few years later, after other couturiers began to see the financial benefits of providing ready-to-wear lines.

The sixties were full of freedom and experimentation for Cardin. His combined interest in space and technology fueled his futuristic collections. Cardin’s use of man-made materials, such as vinyl, moldings, and paper constructed into fitted silhouettes with cutout details and geometric patterns, defined him as a fashion innovator. Cardin again broke the haute couture tradition in 1960 by designing a men’s ready-to-wear collection. The collection consisted of slim, French cut suits with narrow shoulders, high armholes, and a fitted waist, paired with tapered pants. The European suits were not immediately popular in America; however, when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan’s television show in knockoff versions of the same suit, a new men’s fashion craze was born. Cardin’s next venture was a line of children’s wear in 1966. Cardin even opened a children’s shop on the Rue du Faugourg Saint-Honoré in Paris for the collection.

As the space age-inspired 1960s drew to a close, Cardin’s designs reflected a new direction. The designs became more refined in the 1970s. His collections incorporated drapey fabrics, pleating, quilting, and asymmetrical design lines in either the hemline or neckline. His bold use of pattern was still apparent but more subtle. Cardin reached back to his sixties heritage for space-age influence in the early 1990s. His couture line again showed futuristic characteristics reflecting a return to his interest in science and technology. In 1992 Cardin debuted Paris by Cardin, his first new line in the United States in thirty years. Cardin suffered an unfortunate loss in 1993 when Andre Oliver, a designer, retailer, and friend of Cardin’s, passed away in Paris. Oliver was instrumental in the development of Cardin’s men’s and women’s couture and ready-to-wear collections.

Cardin began to expand his business globally in the late 1970s. First, Cardin’s licensee Gruppo GFT entered into a joint venture with Tianjin Jin Tak Garment Company, a suit factory, to produce garments under the Pierre Cardin label. In 1983 Cardin became the first French designer to retail his line in the Soviet Union. Cardin also opened several outlet stores in India in 1996 under the name Pierre Cardin Fashions, Pvt. Ltd.

Pierre Cardin may be best known around the world for his numerous fragrances. His first fragrance, Geste, was introduced in 1958. Cardin signed a licensing agreement with Jacqueline Cochran, a division of America Cyanamid, in 1970 to introduce his first men’s scent, Escape, which he followed with the fragrance Pierre Cardin. The fragrances were in high demand, and Cochran began distributing the fragrances to the mass market. Ultimately, this widespread distribution to moderate and budget retailers damaged the brand’s identity and Cardin’s name. Cardin was unable to regain control over his product, and name, until the license expired in 1991. The license was reassigned to Tsumura International, Inc., who also held the license for Cardin’s fragrances Pierre Cardin pour Monsieur, Bleu Marine de Cardin, and Rose Cardin. The fragrances were initially launched with a limited distribution in Europe but were later expanded to the United States. Cardin continued to expand his fragrance lines between 1992 and 1995 adding the men’s scents Enigme, Insatiable, and Pierre Cardin Sportif, which were carried in moderate department stores such as J.C. Penney’s and the French hypermarket Carrefour.

Cardin was a genius when it came to promoting his name. He licensed his name to a wide array of products including chocolate, pens, cigarettes, frying pans, alarm clocks, mineral water, cassette tapes, car-seat covers, and more. He has accumulated over 900 licenses worldwide, a feat to which no other designer even comes close. Cardin is the first couture designer to engage in such an exhaustive campaign to exploit his name. Cardin has over thirty licenses for apparel products including shoes, lingerie, blouses, neckwear, leather goods, belts, accessories, suits, and pants for men and women. His licensees include some of the largest manufacturers in the world such as Hart, Schaffner & Marx, Intercontinental Branded Apparel, Harbor Footwear Group, Vestra, Burma Bibas, Coronet, Appel Corporation, and Salant Corporation.

In addition to apparel and accessories, Cardin designed a collection of furniture which was produced in his French factory in 1970. The furniture line was designed to create an atmosphere for his clothing line. This line was relaunched in 2000 in collaboration with Daniel You. Another unique opportunity was presented to Cardin in 1988. He entered the restaurant business with the well-known French restaurant Maxim’s de Paris (now Maxim’s Restaurant). The complex held more than 125 guests in the L’Omnibus Restaurant and another 225 guests in the moderately priced bistro Super Club. Maxim’s is now located around the world in areas such as Rio, Brussels, Peking, Monte Carlo, Sydney, and New York.

Pierre Cardin is probably the wealthiest haute couture designer, realizing over $2.5 billion a year through his various product lines. His name appears on more than 800 different products in over 100 countries. He has accomplished this not just with his ingenious brand licensing, but also by being a fashion innovator and entrepreneur. Early in his career he recognized both the financial and marketing benefits of incorporating ready-to-wear and licensed products into the offerings of his couture house. He is one of the few couture designers ever to finance solely his own couture operation. His acute business sense and design abilities have allowed his couture line to retain its cachet, despite the widespread distribution of his licensed products to moderate retailers.

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