PARIS – French fashion designer Pierre Cardin possessed a wildly inventive artistic sensibility tempered by a stiff dose of business sense. He had no problem acknowledging that he earned more from a pair of stockings than from a haute-couture gown with a six-figure price tag.
Cardin, who died Tuesday at age 98, was the ultimate entrepreneurial designer. He understood the importance his exclusive haute couture shows played in stoking consumer desire and became an early pioneer of licensing. His name emblazoned hundreds of products, from accessories to home goods.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Cardin said in a 1970 French television interview. “I earn more from the sale of a necktie than from the sale of a million-franc dress. It’s counterintuitive, but the accounts prove it. In the end, it’s all about the numbers.”
The French Academy of Fine Arts announced Cardin's death in a tweet. He had been among its illustrious members since 1992. The academy did not give a cause of death or say where the designer died.
Designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, who made his debut in Cardin’s maison, paid tribute to his mentor on Twitter: “Thank you Mister Cardin to have opened for me the doors of fashion and made my dream possible.”
Along with fellow Frenchman Andre Courreges and Spain’s Paco Rabanne, two other Paris-based designers known for their avant-garde Space Age styles, Cardin revolutionized fashion starting in the early 1950s.
At a time when other Paris labels were obsessed with flattering the female form, Cardin’s designs cast the wearer as a sort of glorified hanger, there to showcase the sharp shapes and graphic patterns of the clothes. Created for neither pragmatists nor wallflowers, his designs were all about making a big entrance — sometimes very literally.
Gowns and bodysuits in fluorescent spandex were fitted with plastic hoops that stood away from the body at the waist, elbows, wrists and knees. Bubble dresses and capes enveloped their wearers in oversized spheres of fabric. Toques were shaped like flying saucers; bucket hats sheathed the models’ entire head, with cutout windshields at the eyes.