House of Cardin- film review

Palace Electric Canberra from 23 July 2020
97 minutes, rated G

House of Cardin begins with a montage of rapid- fire footage and sound-bites, mainly dedicated to admiring assessments of Pierre Cardin as an innovative genius. It is rather a relief when the pace slows somewhat to examine Cardin’s background and early career and then the various periods of his (mainly professional) life.

The Cardine family left Italy to escape fascism and settled in France. Pierre was one of nine children. His father wanted him to study architecture, but he was always interested in fashion and tailoring/dressmaking.

In France, Pierre became Cardin. He learnt the basics of fashion construction, making suits for women, but then worked in the Red Cross during the war. He did study architecture in Paris, worked with the Paquin fashion house after the war and subsequently Schiaparelli and Christian Dior.

Cardin founded his own fashion house in 1950 focussed first on haute couture but soon branching out into ready to wear – which he referred to as the socialism of fashion. He was notable for including models from different ethnic backgrounds and for designing garments with free, swinging shapes and geometric features. He then expanded to become the massive Cardin brand, with the production of a vast variety of marketable objects of desire – and even a space suit for NASA.

When asked in early interview footage why he refers to himself in the third person, he explains that his name appears on the labels in his designs, but it is a brand, no longer a person. Is this pretentious or is true that when someone’s business becomes so universal,   the individual must separate himself from the enterprise?

The film emphasises the innovation of Cardin’s practice. Footage from the developmental period of the brand will assist younger audiences to understand the context, the reason that what he did was remarkable. That someone who supposedly espoused socialism in his prêt-à-porter lines developed such a capitalistic and highly commercial business monolithic brand is not lost on us.

While much of the film is congratulatory and adoring, we do see human frailty in some of the interview footage and in things not said. So it’s not a hagiography, thank goodness.

Cardin’s personal life is touched upon but not in any detail. That he continues to work and be present in his empire at the age of 98 is indeed remarkable. He was undeniably a highly significant figure of the change movement  in world fashion after the World War 2 and through the 60s and 70s, but the revelation of this biopic is, I think, his current creative presence, his determination to work till he drops dead. He says work wouldn’t kill him, but boredom would.

House of Cardin runs apace at 97 mins. I found it interesting and engaging, but the subtitles were at times not particularly legible  Because the speech is often quite rapid, you may need them unless you are very fluent in French.