HOUSE OF CARDIN (2020, doc)

 Greetings again from the darkness. He’s now 98 years old. Is it even possible to separate Pierre Cardin, the man, from Pierre Cardin, the global brand? Co-directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes take on the fashion icon in the latest documentary focusing on the biggest names in the industry … and there may be none bigger or more important than Cardin. We begin with a montage of folks pronouncing his name in various dialects, and with the utmost respect.

Who is Pierre Cardin?” After saying his name, many of those same people then struggle with how best to describe the man. Cardin himself cuts right to it, “It’s no longer me. It’s a brand.” The public brand was created by a private man – one who has never authorized a biography, which may explain why the filmmakers actually get very little direct input from Cardin himself. Instead, we get archival footage and a stream of admiring talking heads discussing his influence.

It’s a bit surprising to learn that this famous French designer was born in Italy. Cardin’s family relocated to France when he was young and Mussolini was in power. His fashion career got a boost when he met director Jean Cocteau and worked on costumes for the classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946), and then was named head designer at Dior. In 1950, when Cardin left to open his own house, Christian Dior was quite supportive of his pupil. Cardin followed that example, and mentored young designers over many decades.

This is an informative profile, and clearly outlines Cardin’s global vision. We learn he was the first to expand internationally into Japan, Russia, and China … and there is an entire segment devoted to his impact on China fashion. We see his number one model in the 1960’s, Hiroko Matsumoto, and Naomi Campbell explains how Cardin was the first to hire a diverse troupe of models from many races. He even had the first men’s fashion show, something that seemed quite extreme for the time, although he also designed suits for The Beatles. So much of Cardin’s career is detailed here – his initial foray into Ready-To-Wear, realizing his goal of designing not just for the privileged, but also the masses.

The Cardin brand has found its way into so many industries and on to so many products. This includes furniture, cologne, and even cars – specifically an AMC Javelin. Cardin became a pioneer in fashion eyewear, and as with his clothes, his modern approach was often ahead of its time. The film proceeds to go into his purchase of Maxim’s, the famous Paris restaurant (which he later franchised), as well as his passion for the theater, and the purchase of Espace Cardin in 1970. Cardin’s connection to Gerard Depardieu, Dionne Warwick, Marlene Dietrich, and even Alice Cooper are discussed, and we also hear from Sharon Stone and Jean-Michel Jarre, among others.

Despite all we learn, by the end of the documentary, Pierre Cardin remains a bit of an enigma as a person. His personal life includes intimate relationships with Jeanne Moreau (labeled his “life companion for years”) and Andre Oliver (who died of AIDS in 1991). Pierre Cardin is a designer and fashion icon who has a museum dedicated to his work … work to this day that he maintains a finger on the pulse. In fact, when asked the secret to youth, Cardin replies, “Work. Work. Work.” And we know he means it.

The film premiered at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, and will open in Virtual Cinema on August 28, 2020, as well as On-Demand to coincide with New York Fashion Week on September 15, 2020.

watch the trailer:

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