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Pierre Cardin, Revolutionary French Fashion Designer, Dies at 98

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin, the French fashion designer known for his futuristic designs and marketing expertise, died Tuesday at age 98.

Cardin died at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, the French Academy of Fine Arts confirmed to The New York Times and other outlets. No cause of death was stated.

Cardin “clothed the elite but also transformed the business of fashion, reaching the masses by affixing his name to an outpouring of merchandise ranging from off-the-rack apparel to bath towels,” the Times notes.

In his personal life, he identified primarily as gay and had a long romantic relationship with André Oliver, who was his partner in design as well as life, CNBC reports. Oliver died in 1993. However, during their relationship Cardin had a four-year affair with esteemed French actress Jeanne Moreau.

Cardin was born in 1922 in San Biagio di Callalta, Italy, to French parents who were vacationing there. His father was a wine merchant in Saint-Étienne, France, where Cardin grew up.

He started in fashion as a tailor’s apprentice at age 14, and after working with the French Red Cross during World War II, he began making his mark as a designer. He created the costumes for the 1946 film La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast), directed by Jean Cocteau, and joined Christian Dior’s fashion house, where he helped develop the Dior “New Look,” marked by narrow waists and long, full skirts, as wartime restrictions on use of fabric ended.

He founded the House of Cardin in 1950, initially concentrating on costumes for film and theater, then in 1953 showed his first women’s collection, marked by “emphatic details” and “geometric shapes and cutouts,” according to the Times. His clothes soon attracted famous women around the world, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Brigitte Bardot, and Moreau.

In 1957 he started designing for men as well, marketing his wares at a boutique named Adam. “Before me, no designer made clothes for men, only tailors did,” Cardin told Agence France-Presse in 2009. “Today the image of designers is more focused on men than on women, right or wrong. So I was right 40, 50 years ago.” His male clients eventually included movie icons and rock stars, such as Gregory Peck, Rex Harrison, Mick Jagger, and the Beatles; he created the trademark collarless suits worn by the latter.

He presented a ready-to-wear collection at the French department store Le Printemps in 1959, when no other haute couture designer produced clothes that could be bought off the rack. “They said pret-a-porter will kill your name, and it saved me,” he once said.

Into the 1960s, Cardin designed dresses based on space suits, and embraced pantsuits and maxi skirts for women. “The dresses I prefer are those I invent for a life that does not yet exist,” he said in 1969. He went on to break new ground by licensing his name for use on a plethora of goods, including perfumes, cookware, soaps, chocolates, cigarettes, even cars. He expanded beyond fashion by operating performance spaces, hotels, and restaurants (he bought Paris’s famed Maxim’s in 1981), and by producing stage musicals and dance programs. And he entered markets once ignored by Western designers, including Eastern Europe, China, Japan, and the Soviet Union.

He remained active and respected well into the 21st century, with Lady Gaga wearing one of his designs, and with new collections as well as retrospectives. The 2019 documentary House of Cardin, directed by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, chronicled his life and work. He also remained resolutely independent as the sole owner of his business. “I’m the financier, the banker, and the creator,” he once said. “I’ve always done what I wanted because I’ve never had a boss.” He likewise continued to look to the future, saying, “I design for tomorrow. I never look backward.”

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