Pierre Cardin is making his Paris museum debut.
The Space Age designer is permanently moving his private exhibition space, dubbed “Past-Present-Future,” from its previous location in Saint-Ouen on the outskirts of the French capital to a former tie factory in the central Marais district.
This story first appeared in the November 14, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“It’s the first time I’m having an exhibition in Paris,” the 92-year-old said as he gave a tour of the three-story permanent space on the eve of its official inauguration on Thursday night.
Cardin noted that city officials had offered to stage a retrospective of his work, but he turned them down. “I refused because I have my museum,” he explained. “You know, I’m a bit of an individualist.”
The designer has owned the space at 5 Rue Saint-Merri for four decades, most recently renting it out for trade shows and events. Dotted throughout are mannequins decked out in creations spanning from 1951 to the present day, alongside accessories and a selection of furniture designs, most of them prototypes.
Many of the outfits incorporate geometric shapes, such as coats with square pleats, jackets with circular sleeves or skirts threaded with hoops. Standouts include Sixties creations, such as graphic A-line minidresses and a trio of black evening gowns with stiff silver collars.
There are around 200 looks on show, with 800 more crammed on racks in the basement of the museum, waiting for extra space to become available. A few archival images of the designer hang on the walls, but there is little in the way of brand history. Cardin wants his designs to do the talking.
Marching through the basement, he pointed out a men’s jacket with beefed-up sleeves from the Eighties. “From the period when men in America were very muscle-y,” he said. In front of a dress with large circular appliqués, he tossed off: “Satellites circling the Earth.” A green coat with a serrated lapel: “An oak leaf.”
At Thursday night’s cocktail party, which quickly reached capacity, Maryse Gaspard noted that she served as the fit model for many of the outfits on show. Having joined the house in 1966 at the age of 18, she now runs its couture department.
“Mr. Cardin transformed me, because I was provincial,” she recalled, adding that she traveled the world representing the brand. “It’s still a joy to work with him because he is still active, he still has lots of projects.”
By Cardin’s own admission, few people made the trek to the former museum, located in an area best known for its weekend flea market. Its curator, Renée Taponier, estimated the space attracts on average 4,000 visitors a year, mainly groups. “They were afraid of going there. After dark, it’s not an easy neighborhood,” Cardin noted.
He hopes the new museum will draw bigger crowds, despite the admission fee of 25 euros, or around $31 at current exchange rates. Though Cardin is one of the richest men in France, he insists the entrance price is non-negotiable.
“You go to the theater, it’s 40, 50, 60 [euros]. You sit for an hour. Why shouldn’t you pay for a museum of this value?” he said. “Even at 25 [euros], I’m losing money, believe me — the maintenance required, the staff. It’s a steal. You come here, you spend an hour. I have to declare all of this. Nothing is free.”
Cardin is banking on his popularity with young people, even if he professes not to have noticed the influence of his designs on the fall ready-to-wear collections.
“Before, people thought my taste was crazy. I won’t name names, because some of my peers were very cruel towards me. I can’t tell you what they said and wrote, but they did not understand me. I was different, a nonconformist — like a magazine doing very provocative things, compared with a traditional newspaper,” he recalled, noting that only André Courrèges was on the same wavelength.
“Today’s generation not only understands me, they admire me. Yesterday, seven people called out to me [in the street], ‘Bravo, Monsieur Cardin!’ ” he said, miming a thumbs-up gesture.
He stopped in front of a shiny slate-colored sideboard, noting its oblong shape was inspired by a pebble worn smooth by the sea.
“What interests me is reproducing volumes and shapes and materials seen through completely new eyes,” Cardin explained, turning to pick up the hem of a dress. “They are works of art, you understand –– they’re not clothes. Well, they are clothes. It’s wearable,” he conceded.