Prove your humanity

“Designers have that power to globally inspire millions of people” – Jenny Shimizu


“What is the secret to youth?” The interviewer behind the camera asks 98-year-old Pierre Cardin. His slightly unkempt white hair reminds me of my grandfather. Mr Cardin gives the camera an impish smile. “What’s the secret to youth? Work.” He answers. And the cheeky grin he gives the camera depicts his youthfulness, living on.

If there’s one thing P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes’ documentary House of Cardin will give you, it’s an insight to Cardin’s life and persona. A compilation of old videos from earlier moments in Cardin’s life and new interviews from Cardin and some others, this documentary is a fashion lover’s must-watch. By the end of the documentary you’ll know exactly who Cardin is and isn’t. The transformation from youth to adult to senior will remind audiences: some of us really can stay forever young.

Cardin was in his late teens when he decided that fashion was the world that he wanted to orbit, and he’s been orbiting around it ever since. As the fashion industry began to develop into the way it is now, Cardin was at the centre of it, beginning most trends or movements himself—fashion’s first socialist. He made the untouchable aspects of fashion accessible. He was one of the first couturiers (a designer that creates couture designs) to make a collection for men, and his men’s collection was eventually worn by The Beatles. He was also one of the first to design a ready-to-wear line, a decision that was met with intense criticism at first. In the 21st century however, it’s a decision that most fashion houses make themselves. Cardin’s smart fashion moves translated into smart business moves for the fashion house. While other well-known luxury brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Marc Jacobs are owned by large corporations, Pierre Cardin still belongs to Cardin himself.

The documentary details all aspects of Cardin’s life: his move from Italy to France after the First World War, his time working for Christian Dior, the eventual establishment of his own fashion house and the empire that came along with it. The main thing you learn is that Cardin is subversive. He challenges every aspect of the world around him. In his fashion, he ignores the female form. In his furniture design, he sought to conceptualise the future. When other fashion houses were only using white models, he wanted African American and Asian models and travelled to countries like China and Japan to seek them out (of course no one can forget his iconic runway show on the Great Wall of China). His fearlessness to defy all boundaries pays off. To this day he receives the praise of individuals such as Kenzo Takada, Jean Paul Gaultier, Dionne Warwick and Naomi Campbell, all of whom appear on film to sing his praise.

Ebersole and Hughes’ use of interviews projects the documentary into a world of narrative story-telling through which audiences are able to learn about Cardin’s work from an alternate point of view. Even more so, audiences get to learn about Pierre Cardin the man and not just Pierre Cardin the fashion designer. Fellow fashion designer Gaultier fondly remembers when Cardin took him in as a young prodigy at the age of 17. Singer Dionne Warwick, who performed at Cardin’s theatre L’espace Cardin, noted that he was at every performance she ever did there. Even rock singer Alice Cooper was surprised but overjoyed that Cardin invited him and his band to play at his theatre (considering how non-upper class their music genre was for the time).

What this documentary portrays is that at his very heart, Cardin is a futuristic artist of many different mediums. He creates what he hopes to see for the future. In a time when fashion was seen as an untouchable art form, limited only to the privileged, it was Cardin who made it possible for fashion to touch the everyday individual. Even in the act of allowing a documentary to be made, Cardin ensures that his worldview and life are accessible to everyone.

House of Cardin is showing at Luna Palace Cinemas from the 30th of July to the 5th of August.