Who is Pierre Cardin?

Who is Pierre Cardin?

Hello my darlings,

I thought after writing my last post about Dior that I would continue and share with you my knowledge on the History of Pierre Cardin. I’ve found that learning a little more about the history of the clothing back in the 1950’s has helped me when on the look out for thrifted styles, so I hope you find it helpful too.

These days fashion houses marketing and creation other products such as cosmetics and perfumes may not be unusual, but Pierre Cardin started this practice, and was widely criticised for it. Many thought that this was weakening his brand, but the sheer strength of his logo and name ensured this was a rousing success.

History of Pierre Cardin

Born in Venice, Italy in 1922 his parents were wealthy landowners that fled to France to escape the fascism that was becoming more commonplace and he moved to Paris in 1945 (both of his parents were French). Beginning his career early at age 14, Cardin worked as a clothier’s apprentice, learning the basics of fashion design and construction. In 1939, he left home to work for a tailor in Vichy making suits for women. After spending the war working for the Red Cross, he worked closely with Maison Paquin and studied architecture. Becoming the head of Dior’s Tailleure Atelier in 1947 – the year that New Look was launched to the world – after working with Elsa Schiaparelli; Cardin was denied work with Balenciaga and so founded his own house in 1950. Situated at 10 Rue Richepanse, Cardin started his House designing masks and costumes for theatre including Jean Cocteau’s production of Beauty and the Beast.”Pierre Cardin collection vintage fashion Beauty and the Beast

His own fashion house in Paris

Pierre Cardin soon built up a client base. Christian Dior sent roses as a congratulations, but more importantly, directed his overflow clientage to Cardin’s new business.

His career was launched to new heights when he designed around 30 of the costumes for the “party of the century” at Carlos de Beistegui’s Palazzo Labia in Venice in 1951.

In 1953, Cardin began to work on haute couture, and was well-known for his “space-age” avant-garde style. He often ignored the female form, choosing to focus on geometric shapes and motifs. The “bubble dress” released in 1954 was a resounding success worldwide. The style is still popular today: a looser fitting dress is cinched in at the waistline, broadens out over the hips and is brought back in at the hem again creating the infamous “bubble skirt”. At this time, he also became a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture , a French association of haute couture designers and opened his first women’s boutique called Eve.

Pierre Cardin 1950s collection

Honory Professor of Bunka Fukusoi

In 1957, Cardin was looking outside of Paris for inspiration. Visiting Japan for the first time, and becoming one of the first Western designers to seek out Eastern inspiration and influences, he was made honorary professor of Japanese fashion school Bunka Fukusoi and taught a one month class on three-dimensional cuts.  Pierre Cardin opened a menswear boutique in Paris in 1957, called Adam. Selling new informal mens clothing like collarless jackets and roll neck jumpers. These collarless suits went on to inspire the Beatles’ later stage costumes.

Pierre cardin beatles 1950 collection

Most of Pierre Cardin’s early designs were day suits and coats with raglan sleeves, dresses with front defined waists and Wattau backs (this would directly inspire the “sack-line”) along with tulip shaped skirts, boxy waists and rolled or scarf-tied collars.  Coats with draped hemlines, bubble skirts and unstructured chemises also featured heavily. Trained as a tailor, his collections perfected immaculate and sleek lines giving his clothing a feel of science-fiction and space travel.

Expelled from the Chambre Syndicale

In 1959, Pierre Cardin released a ready-to-wear collection for the Printemps department store in Paris. This resulted in him being expelled from the Chambre Syndicale for a short period. The collection itself, as always, showcases his signature features. Asymmetrical necklines, scalloped and rolled edges and enormous face framing collars, all of which were revamped for every season.  Trapezium-shaped coats topped with sugarloaf hats also appeared at this time, extending the line by almost 18 inches above the head.

My great stroke of genius was ready-to-wear at a time when there was only haute couture. They told me it would not last two years. I charged on, believing in my idea. I was criticised, made fun of.

Pierre Cardin on ready to wear fashion

Outlandish & Futuristic, Understated & Refined

Although Cardin had many outlandish and futuristic designs, he was also a master of understated and refined clothing lines too. The fanned, face framing ruff collar (left) was a clever use of the coat’s cartridge pleated yoke top, and the sophisticated, short evening gown (right) was a clever use of pleating to shape and create interest to the front of the garment.

The clothes I prefer are those I have created for a life that does not yet exist, the world of tomorrow.

Pierre Cardin on Fashion
pierre cardin 1950 collection fashion
pierre cardin 1950 collection fashion

The start of fashion merchandising

If I have made money with my licences, it is to be free, do something other than fashion. By changing professions I distract myself. There would not be a bigger punishment than forcing me to play the game.

Pierre Cardin on licensing

During the 1960s, Pierre Cardin began to create a system of licensing that he was to apply to fashion. This maybe common place now, but at the time it was unheard of. A clothing line he released around this time featured the designer logo on the garments, surprising everyone as this was the first time such a thing had been done. His catalogue of licenses eventually grew to include 850 deals active in 110 boutiques globally with each logo building the brand. The income from these deals was used to bolster Pierre Cardin’s boutique work, resulting in the development of Cardine, the synthetic fabric developed by Dynel, which Cardin used to create 3D modelled dresses. It was also around this time period that haute couture began to decline, causing ready to wear or pret-a-Porter, along with Pierre Cardin’s designs to soar in popularity. As another first, he also combined the mini and maxi skirts of the 1970s and created a new hemline that had long panels or Pom Pom fringes that swayed as the body moved.

Pierre Cardin Kinetic Dress in wool, 1970
Photo: © Archives Pierre Cardin

Mod Chic

Starting in the 1970s, Cardin set yet another trend. Mod chic was a form, or combination of forms that didn’t exist at the time. He was the first to combine extreme mini skirts and ankle length pieces. Dresses were created with skirts and batwing sleeves and circular movement and floaty gypsy skirts were combined with highly structured tops allowing geometric shapes that captivated to be contrasted with circular and straight lines. Widely credited with starting this highly popular fashion movement, Pierre Cardin became an icon.

Models wearing sunglasses and vinyl necklaces from the Fall 1970 collection
Photo: © Archives Pierre Cardin

Inspired by space exploration and travel, Cardin visited NASA in 1970, and tried on the original spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong who first set foot on the moon. He loved the spacesuit so much, that he went on to create his own design for NASA in 1970.

Espace Cardin

In 1966, Cardin resigned from the Chambre Syndicale, and began showing his collections in the former Théâtre des Ambassadeurs in Paris which he re-opened in 1971 as the Espace Cardin. This space is also used to promote new artistic talents from theatre ensembles to musicians and more. Uniforms were also designed for Pakistan International Airlines and were introduced from 1966 to 1971 and were an instant hit. In 1971, Cardin redesigned the national costume of the Philippines, the Barong Tagalog and opened the front, removed the cuffs that required cufflinks, flared the sleeves and minimises the embroidery. He also tapered the body of the garment – in contrast with a traditional design it also had a thicker collar with sharp pointed cuffs.

New style of Barong Tagalog, the traditional marriage garment from the Philippines.

Furniture Design

In1975, Pierre Cardin opened his first furniture boutique on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore with furniture highly inspired by his fashion designs. In 1977 and 1979, Cardin was awarded the Cartier Golden Thimble by French Haute Couture for the most creative collection of the season.  He was a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture et du Prêt-à-Porter from 1953 to 1993.

A table leg, a root, a tree, a leaf, all can give me ideas. I am capable of seeing an artichoke and making an artichoke dress!

Pierre Cardin on creation

In 1994, after a break of 15 years, Cardin showed a new collection to a small circle of clients and journalists in his Bubble home in Cannes.

I hope you enjoyed this post about the history of Pierre Cardin, to keep up to date with me, why not follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? I also have a few inspirational board for vintage style on Pinterest, why not check that out too?

Until next time,


  1. regina

    Hi, great info about Pierre Cardin. So, I have a unusual early design gown of Pierre Cardin. Iam not sure exactly what time it is from. I assume late 50s. Its an amazing gown with drapings rhinestone snake attachment etc, It amy have been one of his costume designs . If you know anything,please let me know. My name is Regina Mccrutchen [email protected]

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