Pierre Cardin: A Career in Movies

Pierre Cardin & Jeanne Moreau

When people see the name Pierre Cardin they usually associate it with high fashion. The French designer is known worldwide for his cutting edge fashion designs, stylized accessories and various perfumes. But he’s also responsible for creating some incredibly beautiful costumes for classic films and popular television shows. Cardin has dressed many talented starlets including Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Shirley MacLaine, Joanne Woodward, Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow and his one-time love interest, Jeanne Moreau, just to name a few. Today Pierre Cardin is celebrating his 89th birthday and I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the designer’s impressive career and highlight his contributions to classic film.

Pierre Cardin was born in 1922 in Venice, Italy and he was the youngest of Allesandro and Maria Cardin’s eleven children. Although he was born in Italy, Pierre’s family was actually French and they moved back to France in 1924 to escape Mussolini and his Fascist Blackshirts. At age 14 Pierre became apprenticed to a talented tailor by the name of Chez Bompuis and began learning his trade. He also joined an amateur drama company where he developed an appreciation for the theatre. In 1940 at age 18 the young aspiring designer decided to move to Paris and pursue his career but his plans were derailed by WW2. He would spend the next five years working various odd jobs to make ends meet while dodging the Nazi’s that were occupying France.

After briefly studying architecture, Cardin began working at the couture house of Jeanne Paquin In 1945. Six months later his life would take a sudden and spectacular turn when Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard arrived at the house of fashion to design and produce the costumes they needed for Cocteau’s upcoming film, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946). Accounts differ, but apparently, Cardin got along well with Christian Bérard and the young designer was asked to help prepare Jean Maris’ costumes and imaginative masks for Cocteau’s film. During this period in his life Cardin has said, “I was so overjoyed” and “I used to dream about it at night.” Thanks to his involvement with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Cardin was introduced to artistic luminaries such as Picasso and Matisse. The experience changed Cardin’s life and encouraged him to pursue his career in design as well as the arts. Soon afterward he was offered a job with the famed Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli who collaborated with many surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali and Cardin worked with her until he was hired by Christian Dior in 1947. He finally launched his own couture house in 1950 and the fashion world would never be the same again.

Throughout his career, Cardin remained devoted to the arts thanks to his chance meeting with Cocteau. His fashion designs were often experimental and influenced by the avant-garde. Cardin was a forward-thinking designer and his deep appreciation for the arts and theatre were apparent in many of his creations. In a recent interview with Italian Vogue, Cardin said, “I think I have a spirit for risk-taking, for big challenges and making radical changes. I’m curious. I like to experiment. I have a knack for discovering new territories, frontiers and ways of doing things that are often unfamiliar.”

For whatever reason, Cardin’s biographers often overlook his association with film costume designs. Trying to find information about his film work isn’t easy but after assisting with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, his next foray into cinema came in the form of Jean Boyer‘s FERNANDEL THE DRESSMAKER (1956), a light-hearted comedy about a modest tailor (Fernand Vignard) who aspires to become a renowned fashion designer. Cardin worked on the film with costume designer Marcel Escoffier who he had met during the making of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and together the two men created the various fashions that are worn in the film. Afterward, Cardin went on to work with Marcel Escoffier again on Jean Delannoy’s historical drama PRINCESS OF CLEVES (1961) where he was reunited with Cocteau and actor Jean Marais. Cocteau wrote the screenplay for PRINCESS OF CLEVES, which was based on a classic novel by Madame de La Fayette and Marais starred as the tragic Prince of Cleves who dies of a broken heart after discovering that his Princess is in love with another man.

Top: FERNANDEL THE DRESSMAKER (1956)
Middle: THE V.I.P.S (1963) and A NEW KIND OF LOVE (1963)
Bottom: BAY OF ANGELS (1963)

As the ’50s gave way to the ‘60s, Cardin’s work began to reflect the modern world as well as the youthful and glamorous spirit of the decade. In 1963 his designs were modeled by Elizabeth Taylor in Anthony Asquith‘s glossy melodrama The V.I.P.S and on Joanne Woodward in Melville Shavelson’s romantic comedy A NEW KIND OF LOVE (1963). THE V.I.P.S caused a minor sensation thanks to Cardin’s costumes. Elizabeth Taylor was a stunning beauty and Cardin skillfully framed her striking looks with his eye-catching fashions. That same year Cardin’s life took an unexpected turn after he was asked to design Jeanne Moreau’s costumes for Jacques Demy’s BAY OF ANGELS (1963). Cardin met Moreau while she was trying on one of his designs and according to them both, it was love at first sight. The two were inseparable and Moreau became Cardin’s most renowned model. Together, the beautiful French actress and celebrated fashion designer were one of the most photographed and talked-about couples of the 1960s.

Cardin would go on to work on many more films with Moreau including Marcel Ophüls’ light-hearted crime caper, BANANA PEEL (1963), Anthony Asquith’s romantic anthology THE YELLOW ROLLS-ROYCE (1964), Jean-Louis Richard & François Truffaut’s spy drama MATA HARI, AGENT H21 (1964), Louis Malle’s western fantasy VIVA MARIA! (1965), which also featured Brigitte Bardot, as well as Orson Welles’ television adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s THE IMMORTAL STORY (1968) and Carlos Diegues’ adult romantic drama JOANNA FRANCESA (1975). Their romantic and creative relationship came to end in 1967 but the two have remained extremely close. Many journalists have questioned Cardin’s sexual orientation, which he often avoids talking about, but no one ever doubted that his relationship with Jeanne Moreau was anything but affectionate.

During the sixties, Cardin helped design and co-create stunning costumes for Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim‘s THE GAME IS OVER (1966), Liselotte Pulver in Kurt Hoffmann’s HOKUSPOKUS (1966) and Shirley MacLaine in Vittorio De Sica‘s WOMAN TIMES SEVEN (1967) as well as Mia Farrow and Laurence Harvey in Anthony Mann’s espionage thriller A DANDY IN ASPIC (1968). But his most recognized contribution to pop culture and fashion can probably be found in his work for the hugely popular television series, THE AVENGERS (1961-1969). In 1963, The Beatles personal tailor adapted one of his stylish collarless suits for the band to wear. After The Beatles rocketed to stardom, men around the world were eager to wear Cardin’s designs. When it came time to prepare Patrick Macnee’s costumes for THE AVENGERS, Cardin was called on to create his wardrobe and thanks to the renowned French designer, John Steed became one of the best-dressed characters that have ever appeared on television. And although John Bates and Alun Hughes are often credited for designing Diana Rigg’s costumes for the show, in Patrick Macnee’s autobiography “The Avengers and Me” the actor claimed that Cardin had a hand in designing Emma Peel’s brightly colored form-fitting jumpsuits, which were often referred to as “Emmapeelers.” I can’t confirm this fact but it’s easy to believe once you’ve seen the colorful space-age designs that Cardin’s fashion house produced in the ‘60s.

Top: VIVA MARIA! (1965)
Middle: THE GAME IS OVER (1966), A DANDY IN ASPIC (1968),
The Beatles and THE AVENGERS
Bottom: Pierre Cardin’s ’60s fashion designs

Pierre Cardin hasn’t designed costumes for film or television in decades as far as I know but he continues to work in the theatre and in Jacques Richard‘s recent documentary HENRI LANGLOIS: THE PHANTOM OF THE CINEMATHEQUE (2004), Cardin discussed how he generously designed suits for the world-renowned film archivist and Founder of the Cinématheque Française. The fashion designer’s contributions to popular culture shouldn’t be underestimated. Cardin’s impeccable style and cutting-edge designs have graced many classic movies and adorned many prominent film figures. And his tailored suits helped give the ‘60s their swing. Happy birthday, Pierre Cardin!

Further reading:
Fifty Years of Fashion by Valerie Steele
Fashions of a Decade: The 1960s by Yvonne Connikie
The Great Fashion Designers by Brenda Polan & Roger Tredre

13 Responses Pierre Cardin: A Career in Movies
Posted By Martha Clark : July 7, 2011 5:15 pm

I’m a huge Avengers fan, especially love Patrick Macnee’s suits…my boyfriend and I can’t help but comment every time we watch an episode. I had no idea Cardin and Moreau were a couple…and both just gorgeous!

Thanks for another wonderfully informative and visually stunning post! I’ll probably re-read this over and over, as usual. :)

Martha

Posted By Martha Clark : July 7, 2011 5:15 pm

I’m a huge Avengers fan, especially love Patrick Macnee’s suits…my boyfriend and I can’t help but comment every time we watch an episode. I had no idea Cardin and Moreau were a couple…and both just gorgeous!

Thanks for another wonderfully informative and visually stunning post! I’ll probably re-read this over and over, as usual. :)

Martha

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 7, 2011 5:47 pm

Thank you, Martha! I’m glad you found it informative.

The tailored suits, Cardin created are just beautiful! Patrick Macnee’s a handsome and charismatic guy but those suits really made him look spectacular. I’m a fellow AVENGERS fanatic myself and one of my favorite things about the show is the costumes. Thanks again!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 7, 2011 5:47 pm

Thank you, Martha! I’m glad you found it informative.

The tailored suits, Cardin created are just beautiful! Patrick Macnee’s a handsome and charismatic guy but those suits really made him look spectacular. I’m a fellow AVENGERS fanatic myself and one of my favorite things about the show is the costumes. Thanks again!

Posted By Juana Maria : July 7, 2011 6:59 pm

My sister is a fan of 60′s mod. We differ in styles of dress usually. However, we did used to fight over who would wear the Pierre Cardin T-shirt she had. Oh la la, Pierre Cardin fashion!
C’est tres magnifique! Avoir! Merci TCM for another great article.

Posted By Juana Maria : July 7, 2011 6:59 pm

My sister is a fan of 60′s mod. We differ in styles of dress usually. However, we did used to fight over who would wear the Pierre Cardin T-shirt she had. Oh la la, Pierre Cardin fashion!
C’est tres magnifique! Avoir! Merci TCM for another great article.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 11:26 pm

Happy Birthday, indeed! I wish we all still dressed like that.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 11:26 pm

Happy Birthday, indeed! I wish we all still dressed like that.

Posted By Medusa Morlock : July 8, 2011 8:44 am

That beautiful look with the long skirts, shirtwaist and tie for ladies is so steampunky and gorgeous, especially on Moreau and Bardot! Completely adorable!

And the way he softens Taylor and Woodward is lovely in those photos.

And that last batch of cool “space meets horserace helmet” look is so iconic and has to make you smile!

Very fun post!

Posted By Medusa Morlock : July 8, 2011 8:44 am

That beautiful look with the long skirts, shirtwaist and tie for ladies is so steampunky and gorgeous, especially on Moreau and Bardot! Completely adorable!

And the way he softens Taylor and Woodward is lovely in those photos.

And that last batch of cool “space meets horserace helmet” look is so iconic and has to make you smile!

Very fun post!

Posted By suzidoll : July 8, 2011 11:19 pm

I had no idea that he had worked on Beauty and the Beast. What an interesting career. It seems like he was inspired by the artists of the cinema and some of them may have been inspired by him. I love the 1960s look. Odd that there is not much info on this, but good for you for bringing attention to it.

Posted By suzidoll : July 8, 2011 11:19 pm

I had no idea that he had worked on Beauty and the Beast. What an interesting career. It seems like he was inspired by the artists of the cinema and some of them may have been inspired by him. I love the 1960s look. Odd that there is not much info on this, but good for you for bringing attention to it.

Posted By John Rea : February 5, 2018 8:39 am

Nice!

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