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French fashion designer Pierre Cardin dies aged 98

December 30, 2020

Family reports he died in hospital outside Paris

The French fashion designer Pierre Cardin has died aged 98.

One of the boldest voices of the 1960s and 1970s, and known for his futuristic vision, Cardin became famous for using unconventional materials such as plastic and perspex in his designs.

He was later recognised as a savvy businessman. Cardin was one of the first big designers to license his name across range of products.

Born in Venice, Italy, in 1922, he emigrated to France as a child. His family has confirmed his death on Tuesday, December 29, at a hospital in Neuilly, near Paris.

Pierre Cardin's start in the industry

A precocious talent, Cardin started his fashion apprenticeship at the age of 14, and helped create costumes for the film director Jean Cocteau. He worked at both of the couture houses of Schiaparelli and Christian Dior, where he helped work on Dior's ground breaking New Look collection of 1947.

In 1950 Cardin set up his own business creating stage costumes, and his big break came in 1951, when the wealthy Italian, Carlos de Beistegui, asked Cardin to create the looks for a party to be held in Venice. Cardin produced more than 30 looks for the masked ball, which was so lavish it was described as the 'party of the century.'

Futuristic fashion

Cardin founded his own couture line in 1953 with new ideas such as a ‘bubble dress’ that was ruched at the hem to create the effect of a ‘bubble’ of fabric. It was so well received that he had to triple his team in just 12 months to keep up with demand. Before long he was creating looks for stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Brigette Bardot.

The dresses I prefer, are those I invent for a life that does not yet exist

Pierre Cardin, 1970s

The arrival of the 1960s and the heating up of the ‘space race’ became a new catalyst for Cardin’s imagination. He lost no time in experimenting with unconventional materials such as plastic, Perspex and even tin foil. With his dynamic, avantgarde approach, and largely unisex designs, soon his work was seen on a number of the supermodels of the day, including Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton.

He created new techniques such as heat-treating the material Dynel to create three-dimensional shapes on clothing, and was so inspired by futuristic space travel, that in 1970 Nasa invited him to create a space suit. Of his futuristic vision, Cardin was quoted as saying, “The dresses I prefer, are those I invent for a life that does not yet exist.”

Pierre Cardin's business sense

More than just a prestigious talent, Cardin was also a canny businessman, and was the first designer to sell his collections in department stores in the 1950s. He was also the first major designer to see the potential in licensing his name to other products. Selling a wide range of items, including glasses, fragrance and even tea towels, he effectively created the fashion-for-the-masses business model still in use today.

Speaking with the American fashion critic Eugenia Sheppard, Cardin once explained his desire for a wider empire “Fashion is not enough,” he explained “I don’t want to be just a designer.”

Despite opening his own furniture boutique in 1975, he still continued with couture, winning the prestigious Cartier Golden Thimble Award in 1977 and 1979 for his collections. Cardin largely stepped away from fashion in the mid 1990s, yet was curious enough to continue to design products until very recently.

With the news of his death at the venerable age of 98, in a hospital in Neuilly, in France, Pierre Cardin will forever be remembered as a man who helped turn the staid fashion industry of the 1950s upside down. With a career that spanned over seven decades, not only did he conjure ideas that epitomised the energy of a generation, he helped rewrite the lexicon of fashion itself.