By Nancy T. Lu
“Taste,” said top French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, “is a matter of choice.” The person who wears a creation gives it “elegance,” he remarked during one of his visits to Taipei.
Fashion designers, however, must bear in mind that “simplicity in fashion is difficult to achieve.” To create something very complicated is to come up with baroque fashion. In Cardin’s opinion, what is too complicated is not beautiful.
When Cardin was invited years ago to sit as a judge in the selection of the outstanding young designers during the Taipei Fashion Week, he talked about his own “obsession to be No. 1” as far back as he could remember. He sought to be the first and the best in everything he did. He was very proud of the fact that he was a success with his first fashion collection.
Cardin pointed out: “To create is to influence others.” He was quick to draw a dividing line between creation and imitation. Imitation, he said, is easy. Creation is not.
Cardin recalled that a designer used to just retire to his hideaway to draw fashion ideas based on various sources of inspiration. A couturier could become highly charged after a trip to some exotic land. Or he could pick up suggestions from museums. The creative exercise, he said, has become more complex today. Not to be ignored is the arrival of the computer age, he added.
For many years, Cardin has charted his road to success. Although he has met with difficulties along the way, he has kept himself going. His hard work has brought him fame and fortune.
The 91-year-old designer has consistently opted to set precedents in his endeavors. He must always venture into something untried yet. For instance, Cardin was the first to introduce the concept of letting big department stores carry his ready-to-wear line. Eventually other top designers who used to create only haute couture collections began to produce RTW designs, too.
As judge of fashion designs, Cardin usually studies a designer’s use of color, his imagination, his choice of accessories and his ability to play with fabrics.
When watching young men and women trying to express different ideas, he sees only an outburst of talents. He does not find fault with their works. In fact, he welcomes youthful energy and creativity at his atelier in Paris.
For several years now, he has brought winners of young designers’ awards from Japan to the French capital to train them for the international fashion scene. He has also done this in Taiwan, enabling designers from Taipei to do their apprenticeships in Paris.
The Paris designer first came to Asia over 50 years ago. He arrived in Japan in 1959. His appreciation of Asian culture has not waned to this day. Years ago, he revealed that he had already traveled to China four times. He even opened the Maxim’s Restaurant in Beijing.
At the Chambre Syndicale, Cardin had encouraged fashion design newcomers from everywhere to present their works and show their creativity. He was amazed to see so many Asian talents emerging over the years, he confessed.
Cardin at this point in his life has not stopped unveiling his creative designs and showing his partiality for neatly sculptured forms and shapes. He remains futuristic in his fashion fantasies.
Of his designs, he remarked: “Fashion sees sculpture put on the body. The sculpture concept also applies to the furniture.”
This enduring leader in the fashion world likes to put models in his seasonal styles like he is pouring water into vases of every imaginable shape. His fashion creativity yields results characterized sometimes by an obsession with floating rings around the human form. Vivid colors lend an exciting note to his fashion statement.
His access to fine fabrics is clear to see. He is experienced in working with plain as well as printed textiles. His interesting handling of accessories is worthy of emulation.
The Cardin name remains on top of a worldwide business empire. This son of a laborer has come a long way from his Italian peasant roots. Early on in his career he created costumes for film-maker Jean Cocteau. Christian Dior hired him.
Cardin’s fashion ideas, which got launched with great success over the years, were returned to the limelight in fleeting glimpses during his 5th trip to Taipei.
Those from the Taipei fashion circle who reviewed them went away impressed by his dazzling designs. Science-fiction, astronauts, the cosmos and the future were some of the passions which drove his creative impulse. He was obsessed with geometric forms and shapes. His hemlines went up while necklines plunged to sum up his fashion statement at one point. His coats had him playing with kimono sleeves. Large round cut-outs were part of his style at one stage. His tight leather trousers and batwing jumpsuits also made an impact. All these helped to make his reputation grow.
What was amazing about Pierre Cardin was how all his original and brilliant ideas had endured without losing modern appeal.
Of his inspiration, Cardin said: “I find it in myself, in my dreams. I am inspired by the moon, by the satellite, by the computer.”
Cardin was born near Venice on July 7, 1922. He moved with his parents to Paris in 1945. After learning from Paquin, Schiaparelli and Dior, he founded his own fashion house in 1950. There was no turning back for the highly-motivated Cardin.
Looking back at his own career, which began when he was 23, he told aspiring young designers: “Creativity is a talent. You can’t learn it. When you are creating, you are alone. People don’t understand this. You have to be strong inside and believe in yourself. You have to go down the lonely road. Once you are sure of yourself, you just keep going.”
Cardin as designer did not confine himself to haute couture. In fact, he was the first to launch a ready-to-wear collection back in 1959. He wanted to let more people find his clothes affordable. This unprecedented move led to his expulsion from the Chambre Syndicale. He was later reinstated though.
Cardin went further, attaching in due time his name to just about everything, including, perfumes, watches, towels, furniture, lamps, leather goods and so forth. He initiated the concept of licensing and branding. Asked to give tips on how to establish a global brand, he responded: “You need financing. To have money is the best. I myself never had to borrow money.”
About 200,000 people are estimated to work directly and indirectly for Cardin, mainly through about 900 licenses for over 1,000 products in 140 countries. Indeed who hasn’t heard of the Pierre Cardin trademark?
He, already 91 years of age, remarked: “If given the choice to live all over again, I would still like to live my life exactly as I have done. My life has been fantastic. I have worked in many fields. I made what I wanted to. In all my experiences over a long period of time, I was very happy.”
Cardin said years ago that he was indulging himself in all kinds of activities, partying with celebrities at his mansion Palais Bulles, personally overseeing the production of “Gorky” in Moscow for his Espace Cardin in a chic Parisian neighborhood, and presiding over a summer arts festival at his castle and former residence of the Marquis de Sade in Lacoste, Vaucluse, in France.
He confessed: “I am happy only when I am doing something.”
The French designer with a global reputation summed up simply how he would like to be remembered: “One man started out alone and he built his name by himself.”