PARIS -- Pierre Cardin, fashion's great iconoclast, is also a bundle of paradoxes.
He's embarked on a one-man crusade to make couture more exclusive in the same month that he signed another contract to distribute his fragrances in a French hypermarket chain (see related story, page 8).
He's banned all photographers and camera crews from his couture runway show on Monday, but finished last year by mounting a ready-to-wear collection before 5,000 people in an outlet of Carrefour, the French equivalent of Wal-Mart.
Cardin, whose name has been plastered over uncounted products with some 840 licenses, sees nothing inconsistent in all of this.
That Cardin would be showing couture at all this season is a surprise to many. Following the death of Andre Oliver, his longtime couture collaborator, last November, the betting in the fashion world here was that Cardin would bow gracefully out of couture. Pierre, however, says he's firmly committed to this metier.
"I'm continuing with couture because it's the true spirit and image of the house of Cardin. It's the most creative part of fashion, and it's a sheer joy to work with wonderful fabrics," Cardin says. "Let's face it, couture is high art, like a Bugatti or a splendid work of architecture.
"Clearly, it's impossible to replace Andre," he sighs. "He was an enormous talent, but less...practical than me. Andre lived in a special sphere with the very top people, the VIPs. He just thought of his great friends, like Mme. Pompidou or Mme. Chirac, whom he loved dearly, while I lived in the real world.
"He was capable of creating great fashion, but I could also make practical pret-a-porter for everyday life. He had great imagination, but someone had to bring in the cash," he adds.
Certainly Oliver and Cardin had a distinguished list of clients. Among the key customers named by the house: Estee Lauder, Marjorie Fischer, Josie Natori, Mica Ertegun, Grace Dudley, Amalia Lacrozede Fortabat, Philippine de Rothschild, Firyal of Jordan, Betty Lagardere and Lilianne Bettencourt.
But how does Cardin square his mass-market retailing with placing his couture virtually off-limits to the public? Access to his couture runway show is restricted to just 180 people, plus 10 journalists.
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