Pierre Cardin, French Fashion Designer, Dies At 98

Dec 29, 2020
Originally published on December 29, 2020 7:33 pm

French designer Pierre Cardin, who extended his brand far beyond the fashion world, has died at age 98. The son of Italian immigrants worked with luminaries such as filmmaker Jean Cocteau and designer Christian Dior before launching his own fashion house, drawing on his love for futuristic design.

Cardin's family announced his death to Agence France-Presse on Tuesday. The French Académie des Beaux-Arts also issued several statements mourning his passing.

"Immense sadness," the academy's secretary general Cyril Barthalois said via Twitter, adding, "Equally great joy of having known him" through the academy.

Cardin was known for his forward-thinking designs, helping shape what we now see as space-age aesthetics: Clean, curved lines. Bold, beautiful colors contrasted with black tights and leggings. Helmets, visors and experimental materials that exuded both a sense of adventure and a knowing playfulness.

Pierre Cardin poses at the inauguration of the Pierre Cardin Museum in Paris in 2014.
Jacques Brinon / AP

In the 1960s, Cardin's simple, high-collared suits were a hit with the Beatles. It was one of many ways his work extended past fashion-show runways — he also designed uniforms for nurses and for Pakistan International Airlines.

Outer space was always a main inspiration for Cardin, says Matthew Yokobosky, senior curator of fashion and material culture at the Brooklyn Museum.

"He said to me at one point that when he was a child, he looked up at the sky and he imagined all the stars were women in evening dresses," said Yokobosky, who curated a 2019 retrospective of Cardin's work.

"And so when he went to make evening gowns for women, he imagined that they were stars in the galaxy."

Models wear creations during a show to mark 70 years of creation by French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, in Paris in 2016.
Christophe Ena / AP

Pietro Costante Cardini was born July 2, 1922, in Venice, Italy, according to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, of which he was a member. His parents moved to France between the two world wars, and the young Cardin worked designing costumes and masks for Cocteau's 1946 film Beauty and the Beast. Then he started tailoring for Dior. By 1950, Cardin was out on his own, making a name for himself in the world of haute couture.

In 1959, Cardin released a mass-produced ready-to-wear collection with the French department store Printemps. While common today, it was a bold move back then — one that got Cardin kicked out of the small syndicate of haute couture designers. But Cardin had his eye toward getting the world to know his name.

Through licensing and branding deals, the words "Pierre Cardin" have appeared on clothes, furniture, perfume, accessories, cars — even frying pans, as NPR has reported.

While these licensing deals drew criticism that the great designer was diluting his brand, the tactic also gave Cardin's name and influence a far-reaching legacy.

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The fashion designer Pierre Cardin died today. He was 98 years old. He was known for his vision of the future, both aesthetically and in business, as NPR's Andrew Limbong reports.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Pierre Cardin loved space, says Matthew Yokobosky, senior curator of fashion at the Brooklyn Museum.

MATTHEW YOKOBOSKY: He said to me at one point that when he was a child, he looked up at the sky, and he imagined all the stars were women in evening dresses.

LIMBONG: Yokobosky curated an exhibition in 2019 at the Brooklyn Museum called "Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion."

YOKOBOSKY: But he was also very much aware of the space program that was happening in Russia and the United States. And in the early 1960s, he designed a line of men's suits called Cosmocorps.

LIMBONG: These suits were relaxed and didn't have any collars. The Beatles famously wore them. Cardin also channeled the future by embracing nontraditional materials.

YOKOBOSKY: Vinyl dresses over black leotards with clear plastic helmets.

LIMBONG: Pierre Cardin was born Pietro Cardin in Italy in 1922. By 1946, he was in Paris, working for Christian Dior. It was a learning experience for Cardin, as he told CBS in a 2012 interview.


PIERRE CARDIN: I know little bit of fashion, but Dior helped me - what is elegant, what is tradition in same time.

LIMBONG: Tradition is something Cardin was used to breaking. By the 1950s, now at the head of his own company, Cardin saw that department stores were copying his work and that of his high-fashion peers.

YOKOBOSKY: So Pierre Cardin in the late '50s said, if people are going to copy my clothes, why don't I do it myself?

LIMBONG: Cardin made a ready-to-wear collection and showed it at a department store. Among his peers, this was a scandalous move, but it turned out to be so successful business-wise, he started licensing his name and brand out to items beyond clothes - kitchenware, furniture, perfumes. His branch stretched beyond borders, too. He forged business ties in China and India before it was popular with European fashion houses to do so. Cardin licensed his name so widely it was hard at times to control counterfeits. He told NPR in 1978 that he'd occasionally be traveling in a country and see his name on something.


CARDIN: But I can't understand because I am never selling something in this country before.

LIMBONG: Pierre Cardin continued designing until the end of his life. In a recent documentary, "House Of Cardin," a filmmaker asks him, what's the secret to eternal youth?


CARDIN: Work, work, work.

LIMBONG: Work, work, work.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.