Fashion designer Pierre Cardin, 94, still in business

The Italian-born Pierre Cardin in his Paris office.
The Italian-born Pierre Cardin in his Paris office.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

After seven decades in the fashion industry, Pierre Cardin will have you know that he is in no rush to get out.

His eponymous label has been for sale for a quarter of a century, though do not bother haggling over the price: The fashion designer who pioneered brand licensing will not entertain offers below €1 billion (S$1.5 billion).

"If you don't have the money, then don't buy it - nobody's forcing you to," the 94-year-old said in an interview at his cluttered Paris office opposite the Elysee presidential palace. "I can afford to die without selling it."

Cardin, the first designer to license his name for products ranging from mattresses to frying pans, first floated the idea of a sale in the late 1980s. He has periodically revived the possibility - most recently at a fashion show in Paris this month celebrating the 70th anniversary of his design career.

Yet with earnings declining, the luxury industry generally struggling and the number of Cardin licences less than half what they were at their high point two decades ago, the attractions are not what they once were.

"One billion euros for the Pierre Cardin brand seems rich at first sight," said Mr Luca Solca, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas.

Net income at Societe de Gestion Pierre Cardin, the arm which gathers the designer's licence revenue, fell 13 per cent to €3.3 million last year, according to Societe.com, a French clearinghouse of company information. Revenue was €32.5 million, it said. The number of Cardin licences active worldwide is down to 350 from about 800 in the 1990s.

Cardin, a self-made millionaire, said he recently received a €2.5-billion offer for his Maxim's restaurant empire. In 1981, he bought the historic Paris restaurant that in its heyday attracted Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and American actress Rita Hayworth, and set about expanding the brand worldwide.

"It's like a child you raised that wants to escape. I have never needed money, you understand," said the designer, who trained as an accountant with the Red Cross during World War II and still signs every cheque himself.

Even at 94, he travels fairly regularly, despite suffering from back pain, and decamps to his chateau in southern France most weekends. He still stages fashion shows.

The Italian-born designer started his label in 1953 after stints at Paquin and Christian Dior and was the first couturier to offer ready-to-wear creations, heralding the advent of democratic fashion.

Among his inventions are the bubble dress and the collarless men's suit style popularised by The Beatles, and he also pioneered the Space Age look in the 1960s alongside designers Andre Courreges and Paco Rabanne.

His Paris flagship store sells 1960s-style A-line dresses costing as much as €2,800 and his perfumes, including Innovation and Legend, are made by Five Star Fragrance of the United States, which also produces scents for US President-elect Donald Trump and rapper Jay Z.

Cardin is ranked 166th on the annual rich list published by French magazine Challenges, with an estimated fortune of €400 million.

"It's much more than people say and much less than they think," he said.

The youngest of 11 children, he has no shortage of surviving relatives. His great-nephew, Mr Rodrigo Basilicati, is listed as an administrator of his holding company, Pierre Cardin Evolution, though Cardin declined to say if Mr Basilicati was his designated heir.

Cardin also has a portfolio of properties, including the French chateau and Casanova's palazzo in Venice. Another asset is the futuristic Palais Bulles - the Bubble Palace, a collection of terracotta-coloured domes that includes a 500-seat amphitheatre - on a hillside near Cannes. That is currently on the market for €300 million, he said.

"I don't need to sell it," he said, leafing through photographs that showed him alongside luminaries from Cuban leader Fidel Castro to South African president Nelson Mandela. "I'm not tempted by money - me, it's all about success."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline 'Fashion designer Pierre Cardin, 94, still in business'. Print Edition | Subscribe