House of Cardin stages New York show to announce winners of its new design competition
Pierre Cardin was likely the most recognizable name in fashion when his name was stamped on 800 products, though that star power faded in his later years. The designer, who passed away at 98 in December 2020, pioneered futuristic fashion with a fascination for the Space Age, and geometric forms—often over the female form— revolutionized the concept of a global brand and championed diversity. Though his was a cautionary tale of licensing overkill, he was and still is for many a household name. Still, the brand lacks the buzz and exposure of today's digital crowd and a ready-to-wear collection. His nephew Rodrigo Basilicati Cardin aided by Matthew Gonder, the license director for USA/Canada, hopes to return the Cardin name to its deserved glory.
The event took place at the Consulate General of France in New York City and, while billed as a fashion show, was also part brand educational exercise and part competition finale. The evening kicked off with Gonder serving as master of ceremonies (the director also works as a singer, actor, and composer), introducing the fashion press and influencers audience to the world of Cardin via a spunky video featuring archival clips of Pierre Cardin, interviews with other designers who were inspired by him and fans of the brands juxtaposed with a brand timeline and historical events.
Up next came the fashion show, which featured newly remade versions of Pierre Cardin's original designs, which were shown in January 2022 at the former commercial airport outside of Paris, Le Bourget, in a show titled Cosmocorps 3022, which featured over 200 looks and another show called Cent shown in Venice in July 2022 on what would have been the designers 100th birthday. (Both shows were called Haute couture though the House of Cardin is not an official member of the Féderation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode or FCHM, which governs the use of the term.)
The designs all demonstrated Cardin's futuristic and modern vision and his command of applying traditional geometric shapes to Fashion garments. The ideas hold up today and satiate the Instagram-fueled market's desire for unique items. The house is moving toward more sustainable fabric choices under Basilicati Cardin. As pointed out in the video, they developed a space-ready fabric and used deadstock fabrics in the company. The execution, however, often missed a particular je ne sais quoi aesthetic to usher them into today's modern look. Notable exceptions were a beautiful purple sleeveless shift dress with a multi-color yoke, a green cape paired with patent leather (perhaps faux?) pants, another cape in white with exaggerated shoulders and belly-baring miniskirt underneath and a pair of slit-cut sheaths accented with either contrasting circles or squares and draped black dress with a pink bow popping out at the hip. For the guys, a short camel jacket paired with black pants or a shiny black lurex-style fabric suit with a triangle-tipped scarf resonated.
Basilicati, a trained engineer and president of Maison Pierre Cardin, addressed the audience in a passionate speech describing his goal to honor his uncle's legacy before announcing the winner of its first annual Pierre Cardin Young Designers Contest winner. The first annual installment of the prize garnered about 200 applicants from across the US (a similar contest was also held in Mexico). Ten finalists were flown to New York and presented at the show. HyeRin Lee, a senior design student from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, was named the Grand Prize Winner of the first annual contest, winning an all-expenses paid, three-month summer apprenticeship at the House of Pierre Cardin in Paris.
Post-show Basilicati Cardin was on hand to answer questions with Gonder, an American fluent in French, on what is next for the Parisian-founded global brand. "We want to see the ready-to-wear business return, and these clothes are here to inspire the licensees," said Gonder referring to the current 140 licensee partners across the globe but didn't rule out a manufacturing partner, adding, "We are looking for a big partner to help us revive the brand. We have done wonderful events, the contest, the Brooklyn Museum and Breakers Museum exhibit, and a show at SCAD." Presumably, these were designed to renew interest in the brand following Cardin's passing and inspire the licensing partners.
Basilicati Cardin laid out the reality of a marketing partner. "Licensees are not partners. We can't force them to do what we want. We have to follow them," he said. Gonder cited reasons including different body structures in foreign markets. The in-house designs, which are available by made-to-order, are led by a team that has worked together for the last 30 years and will now include the design contest winners.
"We have a strong group that I conduct, but we also need these younger designers to bring a fresher look to it," said Cardin's nephew adding the winners will realize their designs in looks to be presented at a show in March 2023. "It's a creative exchange for us too."
The idea of bringing in a star designer to lead a unified modern vision for the brand spooks the two brand leaders. "We dont want that. If we brought a big star designer name, we would have to force him to become like Pierre Cardin, which isn't good for them, or they would just make what they want," suggested Basilicati Cardin. "Pierre Cardin said you have to recognize it and not lose the DNA; it can be tweaked with new designs but recognizable."
The executive disclosed his shared interest in space like his uncle, or at least the possibility of satellite networks in earth's atmosphere. He even suggested that a new advanced form of Zoom would allow humans to take fewer greenhouse gas-emitting airplanes.
The brand is aware of the dangers of over-licensing, concurring with the statement made that the brand was a case study on the downside of excessive deals. "That is exactly what Pierre said and why he asked me to become the license director. It went too fast and got diluted, and the licensees produced cheaper quality items which made it sink," Gonder said, adding, "He knew it had to sit and settle."
The industry will undoubtedly be excited to see where this goes, especially with storied French brand revivals such as Balmain, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Patou, and more have made significant splashes to the market in recent times. Though in those cases, it was generally by scaling back license deals and taking complete creative and economic control of the brand aided by powerful, deep-pocketed partners. It certainly involved appointing designers with successful track records at other brands at the helm.
Consul général Jérémie Robert sat front row, pleased with the event. "The consulate is the house of France, and we love to organize events to celebrate the culture of France. We haven't done a lot with fashion, so it was a good opportunity. It's the first, but it won't be the last," he said post-show. The legacy of Pierre Cardin was definitely a good place to start.
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