By  on November 15, 2006

PARIS — Pierre Cardin was like a kid in a candy shop during a preview of the museum dedicated to his 60-year-long career. It opens to the public today.

The 83-year-old couturier rifled through a display cabinet jam-packed with accessories, trying on necklaces and hats while explaining the creative provenance of each.

"This one is from the Seventies, in plastic," he said, holding up a necklace of cascading puzzle-like pieces in front of his double-breasted navy blazer. "You were meant to wear it with a bodysuit leotard — nothing else. You put it on and — voilà — you were dressed. Pretty gutsy, no? I asked Cartier to make it for me and they told me I was crazy."

Cardin said the museum, located in a former garage in the northern Paris suburb of Saint Ouen, would be open three afternoons a week, on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Scholars can visit by appointment.

More than 1,000 pieces are stocked in the archives, with about 140 women's and men's garments on view alongside a smattering of furniture and a roomful of accessories.

"Now that I'm coming to the end of my career, I want to show people what I've brought to fashion," explained Cardin of his motivation.

"I've never copied anyone," he continued. "Just to look at this [museum] is proof of that. It's difficult to have personality. Anyone can have taste. But not everyone can have a point of view.

"What's Chanel, for example?" Cardin asked in a rapid-fire monologue. "It's a tweed suit. And Yves Saint Laurent? What's he known for? The smoking suit? Marlene Dietrich wore smoking suits well before Saint Laurent did them.

"I was inspired by satellites. By lasers. By the moon. I looked into the future. I was never inspired by a woman's body. My dresses are like sculptures. I molded them and then I put a woman into it. It was more like architecture or art.

"As I look over all of these dresses here, I see a continuity of personality. It's all Cardin. It's all sculpture. It's art."Cardin has arranged the collection chronologically, starting with his first creations right after he left Christian Dior to strike out on his own. He admitted a pleated red wool coat he created in 1953, for instance, still had traces of Dior's New Look influence. "There's a bit of Balenciaga in it, too. He was my grand master."

But soon after, Cardin said he found his own voice after "a lot of sweat and tears. I spent a lot of sleepless nights in those days. I wanted to be myself."

By the Sixties, he began to be influenced by, as he puts it, "the cosmos."

"One of my dresses from that time was wool formed like a sculpture, as if it had been carved out of marble. These days they make all kinds of incredible [high-tech] cloths. But in those days, I can tell you, it wasn't easy to get the fabric to do that."

Moving to a series of black dresses with metallic necklines from the Seventies, Cardin remembered the grief it took to get them made.

"I loved this idea, of a dress with metal in it, like a necklace holding up the fabric. But no one would make it. I found a man who made cars to actually get it done."

In the Eighties, he said he was inspired by the innards of computers and radio transistors, which resulted in carapace-like coats and dresses. Later, he worked on blowing up the proportions of the shoulder. "I was inspired by all of those American bodybuilders in the Eighties," he offered.

These days, Cardin said it's mostly nature that he finds intriguing. "I've been to all of the museums in the world," he claimed. "Some people go to find something to copy. I went to make sure I wasn't copying anyone. That's what I understand when I see my work together here. I've always done my own thing."

And he continues to do so. Though speculation surfaces occasionally that Cardin's house is on the block, the feisty couturier has yet to agree to a sale. Sources speculate the snag has been his asking price: close to 1 billion euros, or $1.25 billion. Recently a group of investors headed by the Sultan of Brunei was thought to have made an offer that was turned down.But then, it doesn't appear that Cardin really wants to sell. He said he just returned from a tour that took him to Qatar, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

"I'm not tired," he said. "I can be thankful for that. As long as I feel good, why not continue? I still go to the studio every day when I'm in Paris. One dress a day is what I create. Even on Sundays. People think I'm crazy. But that's my life."

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