“Don’t stay here too long — go across the road. This is the past and that is the future!” said Pierre Cardin, 92, at the opening of his new museum in the Marais district of Paris.
Who but Cardin, the perpetual fashion futurist, would suggest that I should turn my back on go-go, space age, vinyl minidresses from 1968? Or menswear that was sporty, stretch and unisex before its time?
The designer was encouraging me to walk across from his new Past, Present, Future Museum (5 Rue St-Merri 75004 Paris) to a Pierre Cardin shop named Evolution, strategically placed opposite, where devotees can buy current re-furbished looks.
Pierre Cardin is a designer who has been spinning in his own orbit since he stepped away from the perfectly tailored elegance he learned from working at Paris couturiers Dior, Paquin and Schiaparelli.
I looked at a scarlet panelled coat from 1952, worn with black, elbow-length gloves and cloche hat, and wondered how it was conceivable that 15 years later Cardin’s miniskirts looked ready for the first moon landing. The designer, along with André Courrèges, caught the spirit of the 1960s.
The museum has plenty of visual stimulation, but it is as short as a micro-miniskirt on information. The clothes are on four floors of a mansion, far from its original grandeur, which Cardin told me was his former necktie factory. The clothes are put on mannequins with accessories, but few shoes.
There are date labels, but nothing else to put a garment in the context of its decade or the designer’s development. There are not even details of fabrics, although Cardin’s contrasting use of both plastics and the finest couture silks are intriguing.
Visitors may even be amazed that, throughout his career, the designer created glamorous evening clothes that could grace a red carpet today. I particularly liked a black lace dress framing a bared back, a classic masterpiece.
I would not describe this Pierre Cardin museum as a disappointment. All the floors have interesting pieces and his modern furniture alone — including floor lights like glowing hobbits — are fascinating.
It is just that I have so many Cardin memories and I would have liked to have seen some text, looked at films of shows, or heard interviews as a record of his extraordinary vision.
In 1988, I made my first trip to China. And as I struggled through an alien culture and an impenetrable language barrier, Cardin suddenly popped up like a genie, guiding me through a Beijing where the public still wore Mao suits to a massive, state-organised event where he had been invited to stage a fashion show. And this was after he had already been the first designer to bring his style to Japan after the war.
Sixty-four years after he founded his fashion house, Pierre told me what he considered his finest achievement.
“I own everything — it is all mine,” he said proudly, referring not just to the welter of clothes and accessories, the stores and a web of global licences, but to his extraordinary position in the fashion world. Cardin created a brand — before that word was used as a business definition — and went on to break every code and development plan you would find in a manual about smart fashion management.
I wish one of the futuristic cars he designed in the 1970s was on show, along with information about his theatre work in Paris and his current projects in the South of France and in Venice, returning to his Italian roots.
Cardin has always done so much for young or would-be designers. I would love him to invite students with smartphones to walk with him around the museum, recording the exceptional stories from his own lips — and then use that information to embellish the details of the outfits and to create an archive.
I wouldn’t even mind doing those recordings myself. For with every word that Pierre Cardin says, you know that you are listening to a living legend.