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Pierre Cardin's Top Fashion Moments

Five ways in which the designer’s influence lives on, 70 years after he made his fashion debut - as highlighted in a new book by Assouline

1) Structure

Having cut his teeth working for the likes of Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin set out to flip haute couture on its head, combining the classic elegance of French dressmaking with innovative cuts.

The end result was a mix of angular shapes, heavy draping and curved hemlines – a new style of form that paved the way for 21st-century designers Viktor & Rolf, Issey Miyake and Ralph & Russo. 

“At night, I think about volume. I create with my eyes closed. I see silhouettes” - Pierre Cardin

2) Diversity

The fashion industry is certainly not perfect and issues surrounding diversity remain prevalent today – but during the 1960s, Cardin began the process of change by being the first western designer to hire a non-western model. Having met Hiroko Matsumoto during a visit to Japan, Cardin quickly took her under his wing, favouring her for his campaign imagery and launching her into the upper echelons of model stardom.

“Hiroko was Pierre Cardin’s favourite in the mid-1960s,” recalls Brigid Keenan in her book The Women We Wanted to Look Like. “She was so tiny that no other model girl could fit into her clothes [...] He made all his best clothes on her.”

3) Fashion for the Masses

Business savvy as well as creatively minded, Cardin chose to transcend the elite haute couture world by creating his first ready-to-wear collection. This move led to his disgrace at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which branded him a “traitor”.

Unconcerned, the designer continued to champion accessibility, going on to expand his brand to include skiwear, furniture and licensed goods, such as bicycles, cigarette lighters and food, in the same way that many fashion companies do today. As he said, “I wanted my name to be a brand and not just a label.” 

4) French Design

“Pierre Cardin is like Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé and a workshop supervisor all rolled into one,” Jean-Paul Gaultier has said of his former boss. The maverick designer worked for a year as Cardin’s assistant before going on to release his first collection six years later. Kenzō Takada, founder of Kenzo, also has much to thank Cardin for, having been trained by him at the Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, where the designer taught a cutting class. Outside of the fashion world, architect Philippe Starck began his career working as the art director for Cardin’s furniture collection and remains a fan of his work, referring to the fashion designer as a “visionary”.

5) Men's Fashion

Along with championing accessible women’s fashion, Cardin strove to bring style to the male masses. In 1960, the designer presented his first men’s fashion show and, in doing so, united a new generation of style-savvy men, who were fans of his laid-back sensibility: cuff-less trousers, turtleneck jumpers and single-breasted jackets were all the rage.

The latter caused a particular sensation when the style was worn by The Beatles, and its influence lives on, as seen in the A/W17 collections by designers Bottega Veneta and Salvatore Ferragamo. 

Pierre Cardin by Jean-Pascal Hesse is available from September, £130, published by Assouline, www.assouline.com