‘House of Cardin’ Tells the Story of the Brand but Leaves Pierre Cardin an Enigma

A still from documentary 'House of Cardin'. The image shows legendary designer Pierre Cardin, now an elderly man, showing filmmakers around a retrospective of his iconic work from the 60s.
Blue Finch Film Releasing

House of Cardin is an expansive retrospective of Italian born designer Pierre Cardin, largely known for his futuristic couture at the height of the ‘lunar age’ of the 1960s. Regarded as a pioneer, Cardin had many industry firsts within his career including the first menswear collection from a couturier in 1960 and hosting Russia’s first fashion in the Red Square, 1991. Directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes interject Cardin’s career highlights alongside hints at his personal life including an affair with French New Wave actress Jeanne Moreau, tensions with Yves Saint Laurent and complicated relationship with partner André Oliver. Mirroring Cardin’s eclectic life, the documentary features contemporary interviews from a who’s who of twentieth-century popular culture including former employee Jean Paul Gaultier, Dionne Warwick, Sharon Stone, Naomi Campbell and, oddly enough, Alice Cooper as well as archival footage and commentary from the designer. 

Surprisingly, there is little attention to some of the designer’s more well-known contributions to fashion, with the documentary only touching briefly on innovations such as the ‘bubble hem’, Space-Age unisex garments and his contribution to The Beatles’ sartorial legacy. A highlight is footage of Japanese husband and wife, world-renowned Cardin collectors who show off their impressive collection that spans their lives together. 

Closer analysis of the impact of Cardin’s sartorial innovations as well as personal relationships between garment and wearer would be welcomed in the documentary. Greater attention is instead placed on the designer’s controversial role as couturier provocateur, with his decision to sell his designs in department stores and lease out his brand license to factories worldwide. A wide range of Cardin branded commodities pop up to varying degrees of success including fragrance, homeware, playing cards, and even the AMC Javelin car in 1972. Although hinted at within the documentary, there is little in terms of the direct impact this decision had on his business, particularly during the brand’s less successful years in the 1990s and 2000s. 

Ultimately, we do not crack the designer’s enigmatic persona. Whilst the documentary provides a comprehensive retrospective of all aspects of his artistry, mid-way through the second half does feel off-piste with a focus on Cardin’s foray into worldwide brand expansion in the 1970s. What the documentary does effectively show is Cardin’s prolific work ethic and unwavering urge to create, whether haute couture or an everyday water bottle. Following the release of the documentary, the designer passed away on 29 December 2020 aged 98. Ultimately, his legacy lies in his modernity and desire to democratise high fashion, House of Cardin offers a comprehensive look into the designer’s world brand but fails to dig deeper into the man behind the brand. 

House of Cardin is available on Digital Download from April 26th

by Casci Ritchie

Casci (she/her) is an independent dress historian specialising in fashion, film and consumer cultures. Her true great loves – film and fashion – began when she watched her first film noir, The Big Sleep, as a teenager and fell in love Bacall and Bogie hook line and sinker. Some of her favourite films include Whatever Happened to Baby JaneBeetlejuiceDouble Indemnity and Cry Baby. You can find her over on Twitter & her blog www.casciritchie.com.

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