In the prologue of new documentary, House of Cardin, it’s noted that the fashion designer, Pierre Cardin, is very particular about what he lets people know about him. Indeed, a more youthful Cardin, through archival footage, acknowledges that Pierre Cardin as a brand is completely separate from the person. And if you’re looking for an official biography to read, then apparently, good luck finding one. Perhaps then that’s what will make House of Cardin, directed by husbands Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole (Mansfield 66/67), so special to some.
Given full access by the titular House, the documentary explores Cardin’s life from his family’s escape from fascism during the second world war in Italy, becoming a male model and of course, opening his own fashion house before essentially creating mod chic. Hughes and Ebersole interview Cardin, as well as his family and peers, in what essentially becomes a huge love-in. A fashionable love in, where everyone looks impeccable, but a love-in nonetheless. This is because House of Cardin’s biggest issue is that for all its gloss and glamour, it never really manages to get under the skin of a man who didn’t get to his late 90s by letting every Tom, Dick and Harry know his most intimate secrets.
Brush aside the repeated cries of genius – and no one is denying he is otherwise – and you get to the meat and potatoes of the piece. As well as his fashion, Cardin shattered the conceptions of how a model should look. He hung his clothes on models from all over the globe, in stark contrast to the uber white, skinny template of yore. To Cardin, it just made sense to make clothes for everyone and he is heard to comment on the fact that he doesn’t have a particular woman in mind when he makes his dresses.
Another narrative that stands out is Cardin’s keenness to put his name to everything. We’re told at the beginning that the Pierre Cardin name can be found on 800 different products, ranging from dominoes to planes. With such a potential dilution of brand, he is seen as both a socialist and a capitalist, even by the people who worked with him, but House of Cardin doesn’t waste much time tackling this. Again, this is not the in-depth doco you might be expecting, but rather a flag waving celebration of one man’s career.
Your mileage will certainly vary as a result, but even if your fashion sense currently extends to what trackies you’re going to wear in front of the TV, you are still liable to extract some nuggets of interest from the film.