By Jake Watt
23rd July 2020

While you might not work in the fashion industry, there are plenty of documentaries out there that will give you an insight into what it's like for those who do, like 'Valentino: The Last Emperor', 'Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards', 'Dior and I', 'McQueen', 'Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel', 'Bill Cunningham New York', and 'The September Issue'.

Whether it's behind the scenes at the Met Gala in 'The First Monday In May' or a look inside how a Chanel haute couture collection came together under the guidance of the late Karl Lagerfeld, there's a lesson in each of them. Fashion documentaries have the power not only to dish the dirt on what really happens in the run-up to major fashion shows and magazine releases, but also inspire future career aspirations.

Directed by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, 'House of Cardin' documents the life and work of legendary fashion designer and entrepreneur Pierre Cardin, the man behind the geometric shapes and avant-garde styles, iconic logo and instantly recognisable signature. "If you're to become an international brand, you have to have a name people can pronounce," one of the film's many interview subjects muses. According to Cardin: "My name is my creations but no longer a human person. The brand is the third dimension, it is no longer me".


Cardin has dressed everyone from the Duchess of Windsor and movie stars like Racquel Welch and Elizabeth Taylor through to desiging the cutting-edge suits of The Beatles and working on the costumes of Jean Cocteau's classic 'Beauty and the Beast'. He was the first to embrace the concept of branding, and his 98-year old brain is still crackling away with electric ideas.

Cardin granted the directors exclusive access to his archives and his empire and unprecedented interviews at the sunset of an amazing career. Using this rare footage, interspersed with insights from the likes of muse Maryse Gaspard (the first model on the Wall of China), models Naomi Campbell and Jenny Shimizu, actor Sharon Stone, designer Jean-Paul Gaultier ("He is an emperor", he says of Cardin) and architect Philippe Starck among others, 'House of Cardin' takes us into the mind of an artist and through the life of a true icon of fashion.

The film delves into Cardin's personal life ("I was quite a good looking young man, so everyone wanted to sleep with me", he recalls), but more intensely into his work career. Born in 1922, he family fled Mussolini's Italy for France. Here, he became an employee of the House of Paquin by 1945 and then the head of Christian Dior's atelier before branching out on his own in 1950, combining his business acumen with an almost unparalled artistic vision.

He was the first to embrace the concept of branding and his 98-year old brain is still crackling away with electric ideas.

But as the wealthy clientele for high fashion dwindled, Cardin used the value of his reputation as a designer to move into new areas. He shook up the dull fashion pack by becoming the first designer to branch out from haute couture into ready-to-wear, menswear, fashion boutiques in department stores and, most importantly, the licensing of his name to other manufacturers. Cardin did not invent the designer label, but in the 1970s he exploited that idea to an unprecedented degree, putting his name on thousands of products, from shirts and ties to frying pans and airplanes. He became an improbable success as he ushered in the 'designer era.'

Cardin brought haute couture to the world by travelling extensively to countries like Russia, Japan and China to find new ideas, fabrics and ultimately loyal markets. He was the first proponent of hiring models of different ethnicity and race; the first to develop the first line of clothes for men by a courtier; the first to emblazon his logo boldly on his products; the first to make eyewear a fashion statement and designer wear; and many other firsts.

Stylistically, Cardin was a fashion revolutionary whose designs from the 1960s and 70s still look sharp today. Modernism heavily shaped Cardin's artistic sensibilities, and the film educates viewers in the importance of a designer who introduced vivid colour and form onto the fashion catwalks of Europe. 'House of Cardin' showcases some striking images, like a Chinese model dressed in a tubular white dress which had a huge red train trailing behind it, that was draped along the stones of the Great Wall of China (Cardin considers red as the color of China).

The documentary establishes in a compelling, dynamic way the creative genius that Cardin was, and still is. For anyone with an interest in fashion, brands or revolutionary thinking, 'House of Cardin' is a must-see.

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