“House of Cardin”: The house that roared

Cover of DVD documentary
The documentary "House of Cardin" is a work by The Ebersole Hughes Company

House of Cardin is a unique documentary about the man, fashion and business

Pierre Cardin. You likely know the brand, but do you know the man? Now’s your chance with the movie documentary House of Cardin.

“There’s no one on the planet who’s not going to recognize that name,” Vanity Fair Editor Amy Fine Collins says about Pierre Cardin at the start of this retrospective on a long and world-renowned professional life.

With a life so accomplished, and a name and brand that became a household word, answering the question, “Who is Pierre Cardin?” becomes difficult.

The man who eventually launched a series of firsts in the fashion industry knew he wanted to be a fashion designer even before he ever heard the term. He started creating dresses for dolls during his childhood growing up in Italy during the rise of Mussolini. He had to wait until the end of World War II, many years later, before he could move to Paris and immerse himself in haute couture.

Eventually he did, and the beginning of his career was surprisingly serendipitous, almost preordained. A psychic gave him the name of Mr. Waltener of the House of Paquin to track down in Paris. That man just so happened to be the very first man Cardin stopped to ask for directions.

As further luck would have it, Waltener was working with Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard on the costumes for the 1946 film Beauty and the Beast. His new protégé, Pierre Cardin, was then tasked to create those costumes. “And that is how I met all these brilliant people who to me represented the top of Paris at that moment,” Cardin says, referring also to Christian Dior and Jean Marais. “I was quite a good-looking young man for everyone wanted to sleep with me.”

Not long after, he went on to work for Christian Dior, participating in the creation of “The New Look.” Dior eventually helped Cardin establish his own fashion house. The rest is history, a very long history filled with firsts that made Pierre Cardin a household name.

He was the first couturier to dress men, a pioneer in making eyewear fashionable, a licensing trailblazer who branded products galore with his logo, and the first to diversify his models.

He democratized fashion by translating haute couture into ready-to-wear for the masses. He turned the fashion world on its head in the process. “In Paris what is asked for is creativity,” he said. “This creativity needs to serve the maximum amount of women not just the privileged few with money.”

This idea resulted in his being ostracized for a couple of years until Yves Saint Laurent eventually followed Cardin’s lead in designing ready-to-wear as well.

“I like a man when he is manly and a woman when she is feminine. I don’t like it mixed. I like water or wine, but not wine mixed with water.”

The film covers a lot of ground in 90 minutes. Each aspect of his life is expressed succinctly. That includes his sexuality. His 40-year relationship with Andre Oliver is shared in the film as is how it was impacted when Cardin started spending time with French actress Jeanne Moreau. It’s interesting to note that Cardin felt the need to publicly announce a sexual tryst with this woman. It’s clear, though, that Andre Oliver was the romantic love of Cardin’s life, someone who he felt appropriate to bring out along with him at the end of runway shows.

Other than the previous quote about everyone wanting to sleep with him, Cardin says little about his sexuality. What he does say is as concise as the film itself: “I like a man when he is manly and a woman when she is feminine. I don’t like it mixed. I like water or wine, but not wine mixed with water.”

There’s so much to learn about Pierre Cardin from House of Cardin, such as his childhood in Italy, the too-numerous-to-mention celebrities and fashion icons in his orbit, the milestone he defines as the moment he became “Pierre Cardin,” the famed Parisian restaurant he bought 20 years after he was refused entry, the decades-long manifestation of his first love of theater, and his grand architectural plans for Venice, but you’ll have to see the movie for all of these details.

House of Cardin is a work by The Ebersole Hughes Company, a unique creative collaboration from husband/husband team P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, each an accomplished writer, director, and producer.