When Pierre Cardin emerged from the Château du Marquis de Sade and entered its courtyard, the models, photographers and assembled press corps burst into applause and he lifted his hands like he had scored the winning goal at the Euro 2016.
In that moment, he was king of the castle, perched high above rolling fields of grapes, lavender and olive trees.
In one of his rare shows on home soil, Cardin was to use the ruined, 11th-century edifice — which he restored and uses as home base for an annual cultural festival — as the backdrop for his 2016 couture collection.
But a Qatar-caliber heat wave scuttled those plans. Alas, the chateau was used only for post-show interviews and a quick photo-op under the scorching sun. The actual 30-minute coed parade took place under the beamed ceiling of a railway station warehouse in nearby Bonnieux.
Two rows of plastic patio chairs ringed the bare-bones rooms with their white tile floors and stucco walls. The chairs and mother-of-the-bride colors on the runway heightened the feeling of a country wedding reception — as if the Jetsons had landed in the Luberon.
Cardin watched the show from the front row, chatting furiously with retired Le Figaro fashion critic Janie Samet, who peppered him with questions about fabrics and details.
The designer, 94, explained how the wide-leg jersey pants on the men should shiver like Jell-O when they walk, and he flapped his arms to encourage the female models to flaunt their batwing sleeves and stretch their cocooning satin capes. The show climaxed with a sparkling green wedding dress with an iridescent split train, and the male models — shirtless save neckties — in a rugby scrum behind her. It was “Magic Mike” meets “Frozen.”
After designing for more than 70 years, Cardin keeps hammering at the same nails. Slightly flaring shiftdresses came in endless variations: Fronted with tonsils of patent leather, swags of pleated satin, or festooned with a single hip bow big enough to function as a pocket.
The men wore jersey pants and sleeveless tunics with half-moon extensions at the shoulders, or simply suspenders across their bare torsos. On their feet were soft shoes with the soles bulging out like the skirt of a hovercraft — not so far from the look of modern-day Yeezys.
Many of the hundred-plus looks could have trod the catwalk in 1968 and similar styles hang in Cardin boutiques — including a pop-up shop at the Edith Mézard store in nearby Goult, selling limited editions of the runway looks, with dresses running from 1,800 to 9,200 euros, or $1,990 to $10,170 at current exchange.
That Cardin is doing see-now-buy-now is hardly a surprise, as he’s been doing coed shows since the Supremes were Top 40. Asked why he does them still, he shot back: “Life is men and women — and their fashions complement each other.”
Nor are itinerant shows anything new for the French couturier, who founded his house in 1950 after working at Christian Dior. In an interview seated in the castle’s “Indian room” with its low-slung sofas and elephant-shaped tables, he recounted how in 1952 he traveled to 30 cities in the U.S., staging shows in each. He’s also laid out runways in the Gobi Desert, Brazil, Japan, South Africa and China.
Saturday’s adventure began with a chartered flight from Charles de Gaulle airport to Avignon, a quick open-air lunch of grilled fish and then multiple bus shuttles between the runway venue, the pop-up shop and the chateau, where photographers could finally shoot the dresses in a setting worth the five-hour schlep from Paris.
At the railway warehouse, they had barked instructions at the models, as the circuit had them mostly walking away from the cameras.
Back at the chateau, the Space Age gloss of the dresses was amplified when set against the ancient stone walls. Cardin’s view of fashion’s future has yet to come to pass. Asked what was new that he wished to express, he said: “I can’t tell you today, and I won’t be able to tell you tomorrow.”
But the king of fashion licensing continues to expand his empire and said he’s zeroing in on a pact for ready-to-wear in the U.S.