A few weeks ago I got lucky with a vintage find. I stumbled across this darling Pierre Cardin and snapped it up, ironically the day before we lost the great designer. Fate? Luck? Good Vintage Shopping? Maybe a combo of all three. And while I love the whimsy in the pattern of this dress, the way it moves, and the neck tie- from now on I’ll always think about how lucky I was to find it, right when Pierre Cardin (a towering designer before) became an icon past.
Pierre Cardin , born Pietro Costante Cardin[a] (2 July 1922 – 29 December 2020), was an Italian-born naturalised-French fashion designer. He is known for what were his avant-garde style and Space Age designs. He preferred geometric shapes and motifs, often ignoring the female form. He advanced into unisex fashions, sometimes experimental, and not always practical. He founded his fashion house in 1950 and introduced the “bubble dress” in 1954.
Cardin is responsible for many of the trends that were popular both in the 50s-70s, as well as today. As Wikipedia tells us:
Cardin’s fashion career began in the 1940s, after WW2. Cardin moved to Paris in 1945. There, he studied architecture and worked with the fashion house of Paquin after World War II. He worked with Elsa Schiaparelli until he became head of Christian Dior’s tailleure atelier in 1947, but was denied work at Balenciaga.
Cardin founded his own fashion house in 1950. His career was launched when he designed about 30 of the costumes for a masquerade ball in Venice, hosted by Carlos de Beistegui in 1951. Cardin inaugurated his haute couture output in 1953 with his first collection of women’s clothing and became a member of the Chambre Syndicale, a French association of haute couture designers. The following year he opened his first boutique Eve, and introduced the “bubble dress”, which is a short-skirted, bubble-shaped dress made by bias-cutting over a stiffened base. He was the first couturier to turn to Japan as a high fashion market when he travelled there in 1957.
As haute couture began to decline, ready-to-wear (‘prêt-à-porter’) soared as well as Cardin’s designs. He was the first to combine the “mini” and the “maxi” skirts of the 1970s by introducing a new hemline that had long pom-pom panels or fringes.
Beginning in the 1970s, Cardin set another new trend: “mod chic”. This trend holds true for the form or for a combination of forms, which did not exist at the time. He was the first to combine extremely short and ankle-length pieces. He made dresses with slits and batwing sleeves with novel dimensions, and mixed circular movement and gypsy skirts with structured tops. These creations allowed for the geometric shapes that captivated him to be contrasted, with both circular and straight lines. Cardin became an icon for starting this popular fashion movement of the early 1970s.
Inspired by space travel and exploration, Cardin visited NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in 1970, where he tried on the original spacesuit worn by the first human to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Cardin designed spacesuits for NASA in 1970.
Cardin resigned from the Chambre Syndicale in 1966 and began showing his collections in his own venue. He also designed uniforms for Pakistan International Airlines, which were introduced from 1966 to 1971 and became an instant hit.
In 1971, Cardin redesigned the Barong Tagalog, a national costume of the Philippines, by opening the front, removing the cuffs that needed cufflinks, flaring the sleeves, and minimizing the embroidery. It was also tapered to the body, in contrast with the traditional loose-fitting design, and it also had a thicker collar with sharp and pointed cuffs. A straight-cut design was favored by President Ferdinand Marcos.
In 1975, Cardin opened his first furniture boutique on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. In 1977, 1979, and 1983, he 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.
Like many other designers today, Cardin decided in 1994 to show his collection only to a small circle of selected clients and journalists. After a break of 15 years, he showed a new collection to a group of 150 journalists at his bubble home in Cannes.
Pierre Cardin designed everything from swim to bags to clothes. He sought to sell his brand in the late 1990s, but no sale ever went through. You can still shop his designs in vintage stores, and you can read more about his iconic career (and see his designs!) here, here, here, and here.
I don’t need all the history to know that I love this dress. But I love getting to know designers, recognizing their works, seeing how much of what I wear has been inspired by and affected by those who came before me. On Etsy (and other vintage sellers) you can find so many Pierre Cardin pieces- from very mod skirts with cutouts to swim to bags to dresses like this one. I’ve linked some of my faves below.
I’d love to know: are you a Pierre Cardin fan? Love knowing about designers?
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