House of Cardin review – genial fashion futurist with an eye for expansion
After a somewhat breathless opening section – yes, we get it, Pierre Cardin was a genius – this genuflecting documentary settles down into a watchable portrait of the late fashion designer that astutely showcases Cardin’s ease in front of the camera (Cardin died in December 2020, after this film was first released). Although there are a string of archive clips featuring Cardin waspishly telling people off or putting them in their place back in the 1960s and 70s, Cardin, in his ninth decade, comes across as a genial, self-deprecating presence, happy to keep on putting projects into the pipeline even though he knows he won’t live to see them realised.
We get a concise biographical history: from his Italian childhood to his early years as a tailor for Christian Dior, through to his increasingly otherworldly clothes designs and launchpad to global brand. What comes across most strongly is that, while Cardin may have been a genius when it comes to shape and line, he was certainly a genius when it came to diversification and product licensing, as well as being an early identifier of markets in the US, Russia and south-east Asia. (While showing a bunch of students around his fashion archive, Cardin proudly points to his pleated coat, exclaiming: “200,000 sold in the US!”)
This film is very much the authorised version, so not unnaturally we get squads of acolytes and employees lining up to explain exactly how brilliant/groundbreaking/sensitive he is; we also get some moon-eyed celebrity endorsements (Alice Cooper, Sharon Stone), but fortunately also one or two people who really know what they are talking about, in the shape of Philippe Starck and Jean Paul Gaultier. Through it all, Cardin sails serenely: accepting the adoration of the crowd, casually admitting his lifetime’s ambition was actually to be an actor, publicly passing the torch to his great-nephew Rodrigo Basilicati. Compared to, say, Valentino: The Last Emperor (from 2008), this is pretty restrained stuff, but you definitely get a sense of Cardin’s ability to mix artistic steel and commercial savvy. A decent tribute.