PARIS — It would be an understatement to say that every reference to the past — from a painting in his office inspired by man’s first step on the moon, to his posing in a towel on the cover of Time magazine in December 1974 — is a long walk down memory lane for Pierre Cardin these days.
But as the Space-Age couturier — as feisty as ever — celebrates his 60th year as a designer, he’s hardly settling down to a life of idle reflection.
Next Monday, for instance, he plans to present a men’s collection for the first time in seasons to the international press during men’s fashion week here.
“The concept is air-conditioning,” explained Cardin on Monday, seated in his cluttered office, just next door to the French presidential palace.
“There are circular openings in the clothes,” he continued. “The world is getting hotter. It’s important to stay cool. In winter, you can wear the jackets with a sweater. It creates texture, superposition. I’m working on integrating real machines into clothes that would keep you warm or cool. The technology isn’t ready. But it will be soon.”
Cardin is also opening a new space in the Marais neighborhood — he’ll use it to show his men’s wear — for art exhibits, adding to a few other spaces he uses for period exhibits in Paris.
And he continues to jet-set around the world to trumpet his brand. (On Monday, he said he had just returned from a tour of Vietnam, Greece and Turkey, where, he sighed, he did more than 60 interviews in one day.)
Meanwhile, Cardin admitted he’s still on the prowl for a buyer for his far-flung empire, including some 800 licenses, myriad real estate holdings and the Maxim’s restaurant business.
“I know how much I’m worth,” he said. “Think about it. I’m almost the biggest name in fashion. I’ve got everything I want. I go to my restaurants to eat. I stay at my hotels. I drink my water. The only thing I don’t have is salt and pepper.”
He continued, “If I just asked for one million euros [$1.3 million] for every license, that would be more than 800 million euros [$1.04 billion]. That’s not enough.”
In any case, the designer insisted he’s not ready to retire. “I want to work to the end,” he said.
But Cardin admitted that he’s grown “a little fatigued” with his administrative duties, although he continues to insist on running almost all aspects of his business himself.
What he hasn’t lost is a taste for the creative gesture. “That’s what I live for today,” he said, adding that he repairs to his studio each morning to design for a few hours. “It’s my drug.”
When he was asked to survey his career, he picked up magazines randomly spread around his office.
“Look at this one,” he said, holding up a 1967 edition of French Elle. “I got 54 pages in this one magazine alone, including the cover. Imagine all of that free press!
“My style has remained constant — I’m interested in simplicity and lines. People cried scandal. But today it’s modern. You know why? You could always get into a car or go to lunch in my clothes. They were practical. Not about theater.”
And what does he think of fashion’s current trends?
“There’s a lassitude in fashion today,” he answered. “There are too many collections. And designers, look at them, they’re mixed up. They don’t know what’s modern. They do a collection of Marie Antoinette and mix it with all of these other references. But you never know, maybe I would do the same thing today if I was starting.”
He paused, pensively, and added, “Perhaps I’m just lucky. I lived in extraordinary times.”