Pierre Courtial

TWO PIERRES: The store at number 27 Rue Saint-Honoré was packed. A crowd had gathered for the latest from Pierre Cardin: a new collection by his protégé Pierre Courtial.

Though Cardin has fostered the careers of many fashion designers, most famously Jean Paul Gaultier, it was the first time he has sponsored a collection by an emerging talent — a new model he plans to replicate in other European locations.

Courtial’s colorful suits and minimalist dresses with scalloped or jagged edges were scattered about the room. Black sandals with hot pink laces were glued to the ceiling.

The young designer, who comes from a village in the south of France, had started out in engineering despite an interest in sewing and fashion. “I didn’t know anybody from this milieu which seemed closed and inaccessible to me,” he said.

But, with the encouragement of friends who thought he’d be better off ditching the computer and expressing himself through design, he signed up for the École de Condé, a design school in Paris, and soon joined Cardin’s studio as an intern.

“I understood right away that he was quite extraordinary, he himself didn’t believe me,” said Nello De Lucia, who heads the design studio and has worked with Cardin for 38 years.

The young designer described his relationship with Cardin. “We understood each other well, I understood his style and I express it with my way of doing things,” said Courtial.

“Often he corrects me a bit,” he added, pointing to a suit jacket that Cardin advised him to rework into two separate styles — it was too busy. “He’s the genius of minimalism, of purity, he goes straight to the essentials,” said Courtial.

In a phone conversation ahead of the event, Cardin said Courtial was one of a team of four designers he works with. “I have trained them, given them confidence and put them to work,” he said. “He had a strong personality and was different from the others, even though all of them are good.”

Cardin said he planned to give his protégé free rein over the boutique on Rue Saint-Honoré. “I will have some influence on him, but it’s his talent that counts. It’s not about copying me. I want to give him the same chance that Christian Dior gave me,” he said, recalling his big career break.

The Space Age designer said he planned to open other boutiques across Europe with emerging talents, although he was vague on the details. “I have to hand over my talent to the next generation,” he explained, saying he would pick a selection of French and foreign designers. “Talent has no nationality.”

As part of his efforts to preserve his legacy, Cardin plans to open a school and cultural center in Houdan, 40 miles west of Paris, in October. And on April 27, there will be a special screening in Paris of the documentary “House of Cardin,” featuring figures like Gaultier, Naomi Campbell and Sharon Stone.

Cardin recently attended Gaultier’s final haute couture show at the Théâtre du Châtelet. That’s also where he plans to show his documentary, which premiered last September at the Venice Film Festival. “Life is about going on. There’s a beginning and an end, but for now, the end is not yet nigh,” he said.

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