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Pierre Cardin – Geometric Guru

Pierre Cardin (1922-     ) French

Cardin fashions in 1968.

Pierre Cardin was already a trained tailor by the age of fourteen. After he emigrated to Paris he worked as a book keeper. Interested in fashion, he worked to secure a job at the House of Paquin and then one at Schiaparelli.  He truly began his couture career at Christian Dior during the same season that Dior unveiled the “New Look” upon the fashion world. Cardin was a part of the team that brought that collection to fruition and later was promoted to head of tailoring.

Wool, metal dress, 1968.

In 1950, Cardin left and opened his own couture house. His first collection in 1951 revealed him as an individual with a style different from Balenciaga and Christian Dior. In 1954, he introduced his “bubble dress” and his name was made. in the 1960s his designs became more contemporary and unusual. He embraced the use of plastics, silver vinyl, industrial zippers, and hammered metal jewelry in his designs and made a big splash with his unisex Cosmos Corps collection.

Cardin, 1960s.

He opened his Eve and Adam boutiques in 1954 and 1957, respectively. He was the first couturier to produce a ready-to-wear collection and show it outside of his salon. As a result, he was expelled by the Chambre Syndicale*. In time this became more widely done by French designers and the practice was given the it own term, “pret-a-porter” and now it is common for a designer to have a second tier collection. Cardin, of course, was later reinstated.

Jersey knit, wool separates, Winter 1968.

He was a fan of architectural shapes, geometric details using diamond, circle or rectangular shapes as major design elements so much that additional jewelry was deemed unnecessary. He was architectural when other designers were still looking for inspiration in the Art Nouveau movement. He was also inspired by space travel and an interest in microscopy. As he said, “the clothes I prefer, I invent them for a life that doesn’t exist yet – the world of tomorrow.”

La Palais Bulles, "the bubble house" by Antti Lovag, 1989.

His creation, Espace Cardin, a space designed for artistic ventures, included a theater, gallery, cinema, restaurant, and exhibition hall. It was designed to cover all special events and it also became a new space for him to show his collections. Cardin also designed what he termed “utilitarian sculptures” which were less traditional furniture and more like precious art pieces with their glossy lacquered surfaces and high quality production.

Wool jersey and leather "Cosmos" suit, 1967.

As it turns out, Cardin would eventually make more money through his menswear sales, up to 60% of his profits would come from his affordable collarless jackets and skinny double-breasted suits. In fact, his “cylinder” style of suit, the collarless jacket worn with slim trousers, influenced the first suits worn by the Beatles. In 1997, he was awarded the French Legion d’honneur.

Vogue Paris Original 1794 in 1967.

Home Sewing Connection: Pierre Cardin lent his name to patterns by McCall’s and the Vogue’s Paris Original collection.

Wool, plastic coat, 1970.

His style, innovations, and lasting influence on fashion:

  • He designed numerous products, ranging from menswear, unisex clothing, shoes, alarm clocks, and even coffee machines, numbering over 900 licenses.
  • Among other things that he designed he also designed the interiors of automobiles, 300 exclusive Cadillacs and the Simca 1100.


  • He launched a children wear line which included  clothes which the customer would cut out and stitch themselves.
  • Cardin not only owns the Venice palazzo of Casanova but also the Lacoste, France château of the Marquis de Sade! The castle is now the location of Festival de Lacoste, an annual summer concert series.

Images: Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sources: Couture: An Illustrated History of the Great Paris Designers and Their Creations (1972) Ruth Lyman; The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers (2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski; Pierre; Swinging Sixties (2006) Christopher Breward; Cardin: Fifty Years of Fashion and Design (2005) Elizabeth Längle.

*Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture is the governing body of the French fashion industry.

Lisa Williams



June 22, 2011 #

Omigoodness! Just this morning, I chuckled at the generic “designer fashion” descriptive on the pattern I’m stitching up right now. There is no licensing info to be found, but it’s totally a riff off the dresses in the first photo. Granted, the copyright is 1973, so the style was probably very accessible by then.

I want to dress my nonexistent children in those outfits!



June 22, 2011 #

I love this fashion history series! thanks!


June 22, 2011 #

Wow, Lavender, you are so right. That was definitely inspired by his work. Yes, the menswear I can do without (it got even weirder!) but as kids clothes they are super adorable.


June 22, 2011 #

These little pieces about fashion designers are so interesting! Really fascinating stuff. Thank you for posting them. It’s funny the kinds of fashions that come to mind when I think Pierre Cardin- I never knew how he got his start and what a fashion risk-taker and trendsetter he must have been back at the start.