By  on October 13, 2008

PARIS — “People recognize a Cardin without looking at the label,” boasted Pierre Cardin, 86, as he held court in his attic atelier here overlooking the French presidential palace. “How many other designers can say that?”

Cardin, dressed in a taupe suit and a checked blue shirt open at the collar, peered over his black spectacles and examined a sleeveless men’s jacket with semicircular tabs at the armholes that one of his assistants had tried on.

“The future of fashion is sleeveless,” he pronounced with typical loquaciousness. “Who needs sleeves anymore? You need to be able to move and be comfortable. To layer. Seasons don’t exist like they used to. Now it’s cold in summer and hot in winter. Things have changed. Fashion needs to look forward.”

Cardin, the Space-Age couturier who made a fortune by licensing his name on everything from towels to airplanes, was in the throes of preparing for his first fashion shows in years.

Typically, given his iconoclastic past, Cardin decided to host it in his “bubble palace” on the French Riviera, built for him in 1975 by Antti Lovag. He felt the Space-Age backdrop was the perfect foil for the 235 outfits he sent out during the hour-long show.

Just back from Beijing, where he sponsored a musical production of “Marco Polo” that coincided with the opening of the Summer Olympics, Cardin obviously is not ready to rein in his creative juices. One gets the feeling, though, especially from his need to brag about his many past and present accomplishments, that he feels a bit underappreciated among the fickle fashion press.

He said the show was a way to set the record straight and show what he’s capable of. “I design every day in the atelier,” he said. “I live for creation. I always have. I don’t have anything to prove.”

Cardin hauled out a stack of newspaper clippings from his recent China trip. “Look, I’ve got the front page and a spread inside,” he bragged. “I met 800 journalists. The opening of the Games was the most beautiful spectacle I’ve ever witnessed. I was exhausted when I got home.”

Cardin explained his spring/summer collection — with hats that tilt on the head like Saturn’s rings, a dress with a similar ring pattern hem or tops with psychedelic swirls — was partly inspired by the bubble palace’s curving roof and windows that resemble bug eyes.

He felt the house was so vital to his message that he actually scrapped earlier plans to do his first runway show since 2000, more conventionally, in Paris during fashion week. Invitations in fact already had been dispatched for the Paris show before Cardin decided to do it in the south of France.

Obviously, Cardin is a headache for his public relations people. But he’s so full of exuberance and energy — he bounds up two flights of stairs to the atelier with the hop of a young man — that it’s difficult to do anything but admire his verve. “Modernity, it has to be astonishing,” he said of his creative inspiration. “You can’t look back to the past. My clothes don’t get old. They keep getting younger. A woman of 40 who wears my clothes looks 20. My old vintage designs are so popular now. It’s hard to believe. There’s been criticism, but I must have been onto something.

“I create at night,” he continued. “I see lines in my subconscious, when I sleep. I picture silhouette in my dreams. I’m not a copier. I don’t need to go to Marrakech to relax to be inspired. I’m not influenced by anyone. If you like my clothes, it’s my personality. But you don’t have to like it.”

Cardin said he’s not so impressed by designers today because they just “take a piece of history and show it in a different way. We need to think about the future.”

Tomorrow is something Cardin has been pondering on a personal level, too. With some 800 licensed products to his name and the Maxim’s restaurant brand he also owns, the designer has been shopping his business around for a buyer in order to assure the future of his brand. It hasn’t been easy to locate a buyer ready to shell out the one billion euros, or $1.36 billion, price tag he’s asking, though

“There have been offers,” he sniffed. “But nothing close to what I’m worth. I don’t need to sell. The only thing I need to do is create.”

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