Pierre Cardin, father of fashion branding, dies at 98

PARIS • French couturier Pierre Cardin, who made his name by selling designer clothes to the masses, and his fortune by being the first to exploit that name as a brand for selling everything from cars to perfume, died yesterday aged 98.

In a career spanning more than 60 years, Mr Cardin drew scorn and admiration from fellow fashion designers for his brash business sense. He maintained that he built his business empire without ever asking a bank for a loan.

He was the first designer to sell clothes collections in department stores in the late 1950s, and the first to enter the licensing business for perfumes, accessories and even food. "It's all the same to me whether I am doing sleeves for dresses or table legs," a telling quote on his website once read.

Armani chocolates, Bulgari hotels and Gucci sunglasses are all based on Mr Cardin's realisation that a fashion brand's glamour had endless merchandising potential. Over the years, his name has been stamped on razor blades, household goods, and tacky accessories - even cheap boxer shorts.

His detractors accused him of destroying the value of his brand and the notion of luxury in general.

"I had a sense for marketing my name," Mr Cardin told Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in 2007. "Does money spoil one's ideas? I don't dream of money after all, but while I'm dreaming, I'm making money."

Born near Venice on July 2, 1922, to French parents of Italian descent, Mr Cardin was educated in the French city of Saint Etienne.

He went to work for a tailor in nearby Vichy at age 17 and dreamt for a time of becoming an actor, doing some work on the stage as well as modelling and dancing.

When he went to Paris in 1945, he made theatrical masks and costumes for Jean Cocteau's film, Beauty And The Beast, and a year later joined the then-unknown designer Christian Dior.

His first big commercial venture, when he teamed up with the Printemps department store in the 1950s, led to a brief expulsion from the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. Couturiers in that exclusive club were forbidden then to show outside their Paris salons.

He also presented a collection in Communist China in 1979, when it was still largely closed to the outside world. And just two years after the Berlin Wall came down, in 1991, a Cardin fashion show on Moscow's Red Square drew a crowd of 200,000.

Mr Cardin also expanded into new businesses, buying the exclusive Paris restaurant Maxim's in the 1980s and opening replica outlets worldwide. He leveraged the investment further by launching Minim's, a chain of fancy fast-food joints that reproduced Maxim's Belle Epoque decor.

French fashion designer Pierre Cardin at the showing of his special collection at the Ciragan Palace in Istanbul in 2006.
French fashion designer Pierre Cardin at the showing of his special collection at the Ciragan Palace in Istanbul in 2006. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

His empire embraces perfumes, foods, industrial design, real estate, entertainment and even flowers. For his latest venture, in February, he teamed up with a designer seven decades his junior.

Mr Cardin, who was not married and did not have children, said he still rated originality above anything else.

"I've always tried to be different, to be myself," he said. "Whether people like it or not, that's not what matters."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2020, with the headline 'Pierre Cardin, father of fashion branding, dies at 98'. Subscribe