MILAN — When Carla Sozzani, owner of Milan’s boutique, Corso Como 10, was a teenager, her father brought her to Paris and introduced her to the surreal designs of Pierre Cardin. She was immediately struck by the French designer’s innovation and form. “At the time in Italy we were superbourgeois, wearing pearls and whatnot,” Sozzani recalls, while sitting at the cafe adjacent to her store. “Cardin was so graphic, geometric and colorful. I was fascinated then and still am today.”

The impact was such that Sozzani has curated a comprehensive Cardin retrospective that opens Wednesday night in her Milan exhibition space, Galleria Carla Sozzani. “Pierre Cardin, The 60’s and 70’s” highlights Cardin’s inventiveness through his collarless jackets, origami-like minis and vinyl socks.

This story first appeared in the February 23, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“He’s one of the very few designers that really changed fashion,” Sozzani says. “His vision of women was completely different — the silhouette, the hair, the watches, the clothes. It was a true turning point.”

Get Sozzani talking about Cardin and she literally giggles with awe, though she’s quick to add that his marketing acumen was just as revolutionary. Before designers became brands in their own right, Cardin was stamping his name and imprint on everything from chocolates to cars. He was the first designer to sell in China and the first to open his own performance space.

For the installation, Sozzani worked with Cardin, now 82, to select more than 60 looks, which range from colorful wool shift dresses with cutouts on the hip to slim pants with circular hems to tiered metal necklaces and plastic face shields.

“What I find incredible is that if you look at fashion from the Fifties, it gives the effect of an older woman. But even today, Cardin and Courrèges still look young,” Sozzani says. “It’s without time and that’s really a rare thing because it’s not as though you can label it with a decade. It’s just Cardin.”

In a telephone interview, Cardin called the exhibit an “important” vision of his work. “It just goes to show that what I was doing 35 years ago is still in fashion today,” he says, all modesty aside. “I was avant-garde and people are just realizing that now. What I did then works today. It was visionary.”

But Cardin said he doesn’t want to rest on his laurels. He allocates time every day to designing clothes and putting the finishing touches on a line of “sleeveless” creations for men. “I don’t think sleeves make much sense today,” he explains. “I think they’re superfluous. You see, I’m still avant-garde.”

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