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PARIS — Mourners led by French First Lady Brigitte Macron gathered at the Madeleine Church in Paris on Friday for a funeral mass for Pierre Cardin, who died last month at the age of 98.

His great-nephew and heir, Rodrigo Basilicati Cardin, was joined by members of Cardin’s inner circle including Jean-Pascal Hesse, his director of communications; Maryse Gaspard, director of haute couture, and Pierre Pelegry, director of Maxim’s restaurant.

Basilicati Cardin, who was named chief executive officer of the Cardin brand last October, said Macron had requested a meeting with his great-uncle, whose headquarters are across from the Elysée presidential palace in Paris, shortly before his death, but Cardin was too ill by that time to see her.

“I thanked her for being here today to represent France. I felt she was sincere,” he told WWD after the ceremony. “I think Pierre Cardin deserved it, because he represented French couture worldwide. He always said that France made him who he was, so I thought it was very kind and decent of her.”

Macron accessorized her Louis Vuitton cape coat, trousers and boots with electric blue leather gloves that matched the color of her face mask.

Meanwhile, members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, known as Immortals, donned their ceremonial jackets, embroidered with olive branches, to bid a final farewell to Cardin, who in 1992 became the first fashion designer elected for life to the prestigious institution.

Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode; singer Sylvie Vartan; designers Simon Porte Jacquemus, Gilles Dufour and Jean-Claude Jitrois; retailer Carla Sozzani; gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac; interior designer Vincent Darré; fashion historian Pamela Golbin; hairdresser Alexandre Zouari, and Guerlain artistic director Olivier Echaudemaison were also among the guests at the invitation-only Catholic mass.

Hesse said the family chose the Madeleine church, built in the 19th century in the style of a Greek temple, because it was one of the first places that Cardin saw when he arrived in Paris after World War II. After becoming one of France’s wealthiest men, he bought up a large chunk of real estate in the neighborhood.

The Italian-born couturier, who began his career under Christian Dior and became one of the world’s most recognizable brands thanks to a vast empire of product licenses, died on Dec. 29 and was buried in a private ceremony at Montmartre cemetery on Jan. 2, alongside his longtime business and life partner André Oliver.

He was laid to rest in his academician’s uniform, holding the ceremonial sword he designed for his induction, incorporating a spool of thread, the eye of a needle and a thimble — a nod to the record three Golden Thimble awards he won for his haute couture collections in 1977, 1979 and 1982.

Inside the Madeleine church, where white flowers framed the marble altar topped by a statue of Mary Magdalene, seats were socially distanced due to ongoing restrictions designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Four singers, backed by the church’s celebrated pipe organ, performed music by Mozart, Schubert and Bach.

Two members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, writer Jean-Marie Rouart and composer Laurent Petitgirard, delivered tributes to the Space Age designer who conquered new markets like Russia and China, and staged fashion shows in exotic destinations, including the Gobi desert.

Petitgirard, the perpetual secretary of the academy, recalled how Cardin helped it to launch prizes for artists under 35. He speculated that Cardin would have disliked the memorial mass, noting that the designer was a rather unruly participant in debates.

“He was not fond of administration or rules of any kind. If anyone objected, he would dismiss the argument on the grounds that if a rule was an obstacle to creativity, then you should simply ignore it,” he said.

“You can imagine how that attitude might have annoyed some people, especially in a country like ours that is excessively fond of administration in every domain, but he brought a gust of freedom to our debates,” Petitgirard added.

Basilicati Cardin said the speech captured Cardin’s eccentric personality. “He was unpredictable, special and unique,” he said, adding that the members of his family decided not to speak at the mass. “It would have been too much, and all the personal things were said in the intimacy of the funeral.” 

Claude Brouet, a former fashion editor at Elle and Marie Claire, and head of women’s ready-to-wear at Hermès from 1988 to 1997, knew Cardin since they were both barely out of their teens. “I am Monsieur Cardin’s oldest friend,” she said. “I think of him a lot.”

Many recalled Cardin as an innovator, who challenged fashion tradition by launching rtw and staging the first men’s fashion shows. “He invented so many things. He was a furniture designer, he did interior design. He shook up fashion, and we’re a little shaken too,” Darré said. 

“I’ve long admired his work, his inventiveness, and the way he reinvented how to be a designer and a businessman,” said fashion illustrator Marc-Antoine Coulon. 

“He was a great man. He did so much for fashion and for France. It’s moving to be here,” Sozzani confided.

Jeanne d’Hauteserre, mayor of the 8th arrondissement of Paris, noted that Cardin lived in the area for 75 years. “Obviously, he had a strong personality, but he was exceptionally generous,” she recalled.

Jean-Robert Reznik, former CEO of Accor Leisure and Tourism, said that as the first Western designer to visit Communist China in 1978, Cardin was instrumental in creating a bridge between Asia and France. 

“We owe him a lot,” he said, adding that Cardin was also a major promoter of emerging talent through his Espace Pierre Cardin theater and the arts festival he founded in the southern French town of Lacoste. “He put his heart into helping young artists,” Reznik said.

Only last summer, Cardin took part in a conversation with Jacquemus moderated by Golbin. “He was one of my idols, he made me dream,” Jacquemus said. “Discovering his creations gave me a lot of joy. I came to pay homage to him one last time.”

See also:

Pierre Cardin Dies at 98

The Originals: Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin Stages 70th Anniversary Show