Pierre Cardin’s long career and vast repertoire spans various design and commercial spheres, as well as surpasses global boundaries. Although he began as and is primarily thought of as a fashion designer, from the 1970s his creative inquiries extended to other areas of design in his goal to construct a new visual landscape. Born outside of Venice to French parents, Cardin apprenticed to a tailor in France at the age of 14. After the war, in 1945, he went to Paris where he worked for the haute couture houses of Paquin and later Schiaparelli. At Schiaparelli, a hub for players in the Surrealist Movement, he met Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard, which led to his costume designs for Cocteau’s film “La Belle et la Bête” (1946). After working for Christian Dior in 1946, Cardin began his own company designing costumes for the theater. His career soon turned to commercial fashion and in 1953, he presented his first women’s haute couture collection and opened his boutique “Eve” at 118, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. His constant search for innovation and modernity was clear in 1959, when he launched a ready-to-wear collection in the Paris department store Printemps. In so doing, Cardin was among the first Paris couturiers to defy the couture trade union and work in the then undeveloped prêt-à-porter industry. This propensity for the modern worked well in the context of the 1960s’ Space Age Movement and Cardin created futuristic styles, seen for instance in his Cosmocorps line and “Satellite” hats, in industrial fabrics that included vinyl and his own invention, the thermorform “Cardine” (1968).
He would apply this innovative spirit to all aspects of design, what he called environmental design, creating a “Univers Cardin,” all under his brand. With the collaboration of the Bini Brothers, Cardin’s late 1960s and 1970s boutiques in Paris’s faubourg Saint-Honoré, where 200 lights illuminated 1,000 stainless steel slats, and Milan’s Via Montenapoleone, presenting a “cosmic” universe, attest to this merging of fashion, furniture, and architecture in one visual whole. In 1970, Cardin established the avant-garde “Espace Pierre Cardin,” complete with a theater, restaurant, cinema, and exhibition space. Also in this complex was his design studio, “Environnement,” attesting to the connection Cardin saw between design and culture. (In 1980 he would open a cabinet-making atelier in Saint-Ouen.) At Environnement, Cardin’s vast repertoire, which included jewelry, tableware, wallpaper, linens, furniture, kitchen and bathroom interiors, and objects ranging from alarm clocks to computers and cars, paralleled his sizable design team. His collaborators have included Ambrogio Pozzi, Pierre Vandel, Boris Tabacoff, Philippe Starck, Paolo Leoni, Giacomo Passera, and Claude Prevost, all under the direction of designer and graphic artist Alain Carré in the early few years. Their products tended towards the “futuristic,” from Yonel Lebovici’s satellite lamp to Francesco Bocola’s upside down triangle desk, with built-in cube shelf, lamp, phone, television in the early 1970s. Cardin’s futurism comprised a clear organic quality, seen in François Cante-Pacos’ plug-in furniture, as well as a penchant for the geometric, illustrated by Serge Manzon’s mondrianesque furniture and necklaces in chromed metal. Finally, Cardin’s pieces all share a sense of whimsy, epitomized by Maria Pergay’s “Turtle Sofa” and Christian Adam’s furniture line called “un peu fous” (a little crazy) with its adjustable bookcase in lacquered wood, composed of irregular polyhedrons and hollows (1976-77).
In 1977, Cardin opened his Paris gallery “Evolution,” where he presented his first collection of haute couture furniture, “Meubles-sculptures” (“Utilitarian Sculptures”). These works blurred the boundaries between sculpture, dress, and furniture and adhered to Cardin’s notion of furniture that should engage in a dialogue with the body as well as act as a sort of functional sculpture. For these collections, Cardin earned much publicity from 1977 to 1980 in Vogue, L’Officiel de la mode, Casa Vogue, Domus, Interior Design, Interiors, Architectural Digest, and L’Œil. Production-wise, Cardin conceived the “meubles” as both made-to-measure garments, made in eight or ten copies, and as sculptures, which tables that morphed into stereos and were sheathed in rubber, scales, or silk jersey. These works, with their daring combinations of wood, textile, and metal, for example, illustrate Cardin’s technical and industrial experimentation, based on his goal to express his modern period and to reinvent and rethink design. For these significant contributions to design and fine art (Cardin holds a seat in the Academy of Fine Arts at the French Institute), Pierre Cardin’s work today places prominently in museum and gallery collections.
Rennolds Milbank, Caroline. Couture, the Great Designers (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1997), 338-341.
Loyauté, Benjamin. Pierre Cardin: Evolution, Meubles et Design (Paris: Flammarion, 2006).
Patrick Favardin and Guy Bloch-Champfort, Les Decorateurs des années 60-70 (Paris: Norma, 2007), 108-117.
Ann Bony, Furniture & Interiors of the 1970s (Paris: Flammarion, 2005), 95-96.