The designer who democratized fashion, Pierre Cardin, died on Dec. 29 at the age of 98.
There is a good chance that there is at least one Pierre Cardin piece in your closet right now, either a belt, a scarf; or even a wallet. This is due to the numerous licensing deals the French designer entered in the 1980s, which placed his name on everything from automobiles to frying pans. His many efforts to democratize fashion (but also achieve mainstream success) led to derision by his contemporaries; his first pret-a-porter line (despite being a haute couturier) led to his expulsion from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne in 1959. He was eventually reinstated, but he had resigned voluntarily in the late 1960s. The designer thus pioneered the now-common practice, so designers can, and do, put their name on several diffusion lines, or else perfume, watches, aprons, and the like.
The son of wealthy Italian immigrants fleeing fascism, he was born on July 2, 1922. He worked as early as 14 as an apprentice, and worked as a tailor before his 20s. After the war, he worked under influential designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior. He started his own brand in 1950. He in turn took budding designers under his wing, hiring a young Jean Paul Gaultier as an assistant in the 1970s, then sending him to the Philippines in 1974 to manage the Pierre Cardin boutique in Manila.
Even before his licensing deals, Mr. Cardin (pronounced car-deen; in the Italian way) already had a far reach: he was designing airline uniforms in the Middle East, and had redesigned the Barong Tagalog itself for wealthy clients in Manila, streamlining the silhouette in the 1970s.
He is still remembered the world over for his futuristic designs in the 1960s, forming a forward look from France shared by his contemporary André Courrèges (who died in 2016). The looks gave the blueprint for a future imagined in space, as a result of the space race between the US and the Soviet Union; the clothes today remain in the public imagination as what the Swinging ‘60s looked like, sharing a spotlight with London Mod culture. Some of his most famous clients were The Beatles (the Nehru jackets were Mr. Cardin’s handiwork), Gregory Peck, and Lauren Bacall. — Joseph L. Garcia