VENICE, Italy — The house of Pierre Cardin paid a new tribute to the Space-Age couturier on July 2, the day he would have turned 100 and in the city that represented his favorite Italian retreat before his death in December 2020 at age 98.
“My uncle did not really like receiving birthday wishes but he was thinking to celebrate his 100th birthday with some special event in Paris,” said his great-nephew Rodrigo Basilicati-Cardin, who took over as chief executive officer of the company in 2018 and went on to become its president and artistic director in 2020.
Staged in front of 300 guests inside the stuccoed Palazzo Ca’ Bragadin, a sumptuous estate in the heart of the city owned by the designer for many years, the runway show introduced “Cent,” a celebratory collection of original designs and eco-minded pieces conceived by the brand’s design team of five, led by Basilicati-Cardin, an engineer by training.
The show location was befitting as Basilicati-Cardin recalled how his uncle’s career took off after designing a dozen costumes for Salvador Dalí and his inner circle of friends for Venice’s lavish Beistegui Ball in 1951. The designer’s attachment to Italy is also best exemplified by the plays he staged at Espace Cardin, the Paris event venue that permanently closed in 2016 after nearly five decades but that the house aims to reopen at some point. The venue over the years invited Italian artists, including dancers Paolo Bortoluzzi and Carla Fracci and soprano Renata Tebaldi to perform.
A man of the theater and a producer with more than 600 pieces under his belt and costume designs for Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic “Beauty and the Beast,” among others, Cardin would have been proud of Saturday’s staging in which talented pianist Natalia Morozova and violinist Anastasiya Petryshak entertained guests with Ennio Morricone and Astor Piazzolla tunes as models strode the elevated catwalk.
The show opened with a few dozen pieces spanning seven decades, from Cardin’s seminal 1951 collection up to the styles he sketched a few months before his death. They included a red robe manteau which, according to Basilicati-Cardin, triggered the house founder to venture into the licensing business at the request of a Texas distributor to produce around 200,000 pieces of the item; skirt suits with draped backs, and vinyl pleated skirts and bra combos with bubble-shaped Plexiglas inserts.
The collection hinged on the house’s key codes — think hoop skirts, blocks of color, cutouts, scalloped hems and Space-Age inflections, with models twirling and donning old-school poses. Only a few styles, including breezy scalloped short frocks and sand-toned billowing dresses, came across as modern as most of the lineup had instead a retro-futuristic bent. It paid tribute to the founder’s democratic vision of design, rooted in accessibility and practicality rather than elitism.
“He thought that sharing was important, it’s never been about fashion requiring 700-plus hours of handiwork,” Basilicati-Cardin noted.
The pieces featured next-gen fabrics — such as recycled polyester; silk and lotus fiber blends, the latter coming from Cambodia-based supplier Samatoa; banana leaf fibers, and organic cotton — and sci-fi textiles. A few numbers were crafted from a lightweight textile made of Kevlar filaments and typically employed to shield space satellites from solar heat that was supplied by Thales Alenia Space, with which the house established earlier this year the Prix Bulles Cardin, an annual award recognizing organizations and individuals working toward “an ecological economy.”
“The responsible approach we have championed over the past year has triggered designers and tailors at the house, whenever you transition there’s no way to revert, and you feel like belonging to a greater project,” said Basilicati-Cardin.
As Venice instituted this year the Venice World Capital of Sustainability Foundation, he expressed enthusiasm for showing a collection rich in recycled fabrics and deadstock, partly drawn from the house’s own archives, apparently replete with textiles amassed by the couturier over time.
“As the second most polluting industry, fashion has a responsibility toward the planet and communicating the eco-friendly efforts it is making.…All brands are sensitive to the issue, but they need to dive deeper and push our partners to do the same, including suppliers,” Basilicati-Cardin said.
As much as Cardin’s creative élan and fame were rooted in the Space-Age aesthetics he championed in the 1960s, the designer is also remembered for his intuition regarding the licensing business.
The house president spent the past two years reviewing licenses, renewing roughly 200 contracts but cutting the number of products and categories in a bid to tighten control over brand image, product quality and now sustainability credentials.
“The Cardin personality needs to be exalted across the board.…I need to work in tandem [with partners] before collections reach industrial scale,” Basilicati-Cardin observed, adding that he will embark on a world tour kicking off in Mexico City in October to meet partners.
“I don’t want to designate a creative director for the house, because they would feel compelled to imitate Pierre Cardin,” he said, insisting on the key role played by the design studio also dictating the way forward for licensees.
The house had long been absent from Paris Fashion Week, staging occasional displays at the famed Bubble Palace perched atop a hillside just outside of Cannes, and on China’s Great Wall, among others. But Basilicati-Cardin has different plans and in January marked the one-year anniversary of the founder’s death with a show held in front of a replica of an Ariane 5 rocket in Paris.
“I never really understood the reasoning for sitting out fashion weeks,” Basilicati-Cardin said. “I think he once told me he wanted to leave room for new talents, but today with the amount of visibility around these events I think it’s great to leverage their appeal especially for our licensees around the world operating Pierre Cardin banners,” he said. Many of them attended the show in Venice alongside 20 students of the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti arts school and cheered enthusiastically.
The yearly collections like Cent are sold at the brand’s Paris boutique, its sole directly operated banner, which has been temporarily moved as the storied headquarters undergo renovation. Basilicati-Cardin finally integrated an e-commerce component to the website, toying with the immersive digital experience by setting up a Palais Cardin space, each virtual floor dedicated to different product categories and branches of the group’s business.
As business picks up, he didn’t rule out reopening a factory to produce fashion collections, or inking licensing deals to boost the division and hinted at future projects in NFTs or the virtual fashion arena. “I’m not entirely into it yet, but I think it’s an expression of pure creativity and we wouldn’t even need licensees,” he said.
The Parisian headquarters are due to reopen by March 2023, housing the atelier and a store, as well as a 6,450-square-foot museum on the first floor that will reopen in May. The store concept is inspired by the Pyramid table designed by Cardin, Basilicati-Cardin explained, adding that he intends the unique design to be reflected across all stores operated by licensees in the world.
The house president declined to disclose the group’s revenues for 2021 or the first half of 2022, beyond saying they were up from the previous year and surpassed 2019 levels, with business particularly brisk in countries where domestic shopping for luxury and premium goods has increased in light of travel bans.