Designer Pierre Cardin is known for his eye towards the future, a vantage that has guided seven decades of his innovative style. On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, more than 170 of his futuristic pieces are now on view in a new exhibition, Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion, that opens this week at New York’s Brooklyn Museum. Spanning looks from the 1950s to the present, Cardin’s edgy couture and prêt-à-porter are shown alongside accessories, photography, and film—highlighting the key influence of the ‘60s Space Race—to lend context to the designer’s stylistic visions.
Organized chronologically, the exhibition follows the full evolution of Cardin’s career. "Some of the highlights include a red day suit from Jacqueline Kennedy’s wardrobe; experimental designs of the 1960s that looked at unisex dressing; and the incorporation of vinyl and new materials, such as his 'Cardine' fabric and the design of 'kinetic' fashions that were meant to be seen as moving sculpture," curator Matthew Yokobosky tells CR. "There’s also clothing embedded with lights and LEDs, as well as encrusted evening wear."
Additional defining looks include Cardin’s “target dress” from his renowned 1964 Cosmocorps collection, fashion-forward menswear pairings such as collarless suit jackets with slender “cylinder” pants, and his origami-inspired, broad-shouldered jackets that distinctly recall shapes from the 1980s. The designer’s penchant for costuming is illustrated by Mia Farrow’s wardrobe from the film A Dandy in Aspic and French actress Jeanne Moreau’s costumes in the Bay of Angels (La baie des anges). The presentation is rounded out by his diverse work with lighting, home, and auto interiors—featuring artistic “couture” furniture, including his lacquered “utilitarian sculpture” designs.
Born in San Biagio di Callalta, Italy in 1922, Cardin moved with his family to central France in his early youth. Always inclined towards architecture and fashion, he worked as a clothier’s apprentice from the age of 14, and then in tailoring for womenswear. In 1945, he moved to Paris, where he studied architecture and worked at the fashion house Paquin and Elsa Schiaparelli. Cardin’s natural design aptitude and meticulous craftsmanship were recognized and two years later, he became the head of Christian Dior's tailleure atelier. In 1950 he founded his own eponymous brand.
Cardin continued to find ready success within the world of fashion. He created costumes for "the party of the century" masquerade ball at Palazzo Labia in Venice in 1951, and then he ventured into haute couture in 1953, devising a prêt-à-porter line only a few years later. The innovative designer explored geometric shapes and new fabrics to complement his space age looks, such as his famed “bubble dress” with a distinctive, rounded shape. Together with André Courrèges and Paco Rabanne—his counterparts in imaginative ‘60s design—the trio revolutionized materiality in fashion. With minimalist, contemporary forms, the designers added unconventional materials, such as plastics, silver, and vinyl, to redefine expectations and an offer a new mode of chic. Then, in the following decade, Cardin experimented with fluid, draping styles, contrasting combinations of mini and maxi skirts, and straight and circular silhouettes—even pairing t-shirts with couture gowns on his ‘70s runways.
Cardin endeavored into a wide range of design projects. Inspired by space travel, he developed a spacesuit for NASA. He also fashioned uniforms for Pakistan International Airlines, and redesigned the Barong Tagalog, a national costume of the Philippines. To show his collections, he built a creative arts venue, the Espace Cardin, and he also opened a Parisian furniture boutique. He continued to create memorable fashion moments in succeeding decades, such as structured jackets and coats that referenced Chinese architecture and football uniforms. His biomorphic dresses too became landmark Cardin looks—re-envisioning the female form with science fiction contours.
The pioneering designer pushed the business boundaries of fashion as well—expanding his brand into jewelry, perfumes, interiors, and other diverse fields. He became one of the first European designers to show in then-emerging fashion markets of Japan, China, and Vietnam, and he produced over-the-top mega-shows in exotic locales such as The Great Wall of China and Moscow’s Red Square, which garnered over 200,000 attendees. Cardin also began to license his products, franchising his name and recognition into more than 900 varied endeavors. Many have been critical that in a quest for breadth, Cardin sacrificed his artistic vision and the essential identity of his brand.
Still, Cardin remains an influential figure in fashion history. Long after his Mod stylings appeared on runways, his influence is evident in the geometry, unpredictable silhouettes, and futuristic feel of many designers’ recent collections. Geometric figures were a major trend of Spring/Summer 2013 with checks and stripes at Louis Vuitton and polka dot prints at Marc Jacobs. For Spring/Summer 2015, Moschino and Junya Watanabe featured playful pops of color and shape-infused styles. That season, collections at Balmain and Versace took an architectural tact with color-blocking and body-baring cutouts. Bold graphics—often seen in looks from Miuccia Prada and Mary Katrantzou—speak to patterns that predate their own designs.
Visual and physical shapes blend in designer Ichiro Suzuki’s optical illusion prints and biomorphic 3D tailoring, while Hedi Slimane looked to slim ‘60s menswear profiles during his tenure at Dior Homme. In the year 2017, the Space Age theme reigned strong in Spring/Summer collections including Vivienne Tam’s NASA-inspired looks and white boots abound at Balenciaga, Vetements, and Céline. Christopher Kane resurrected vibrant, cosmic prints from his Resort 2011 collection for another turn that year, and UFOs were the spirit of Gucci’s Fall/Winter styles. Karl Lagerfeld too embraced the ultramodern motif at Chanel with silvery capes, glittery boots, and evening wear embroidered with constellations—elevating fashion to the cosmos.
In Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion, the exhibition reveals the designer’s legacy—perhaps best remembered as his creation of a vision forward. With a progressive approach, Cardin crafted a daring aesthetic that resonates with designers who have followed after him. Ever a trendsetter, he approached fashion from deep within his imagination, designing for the world ahead—a fashionable future he helped bring to light.
Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion is on view at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City from July 20, 2019–January 5, 2020.