“Buy belt at Pierre Cardin.”
This short phrase comes from a list I made my junior year abroad in Paris. It was, however, loaded with complexity. I thought of Pierre Cardin as the very height of chic but I wore jeans, and only jeans at the time, and considered anything north of jeans a betrayal of the political principles I had silently sworn to uphold. I had gone to Biba and Mary Quant, but that was swingin’ London and somehow this was different. It was Paris and Ready to Wear. As a result, it stayed on the list for quite some time, as I had to get up my nerve to actually go to the right bank and into the very chic boutique. My aunt’s birthday was the excuse I needed to cross this Rubicon.
Cardin had opened the futuristic Espace Cardin near the American Embassy. He was inspired by NASA uniforms. The clothes were sculpted and space age, some with cut outs or with checkerboard patterns that made you dizzy just to look at them. A salesgirl wearing a black and white geometric print and white booties glided over to me. “I’m looking for a belt,” I said, somewhat defiantly into outer space lest I get vertigo from the op art of her dress. “It’s a present,” I stated loudly for the record since I wanted everyone to know I thought anyone who owned a dress just for cocktails was hopelessly bourgeois.
I looked around while she was wrapping the present. I desperately wanted to be able to afford one of these beauties and have the courage to wear it too. Truthfully I was tired of marching and the Revolution. I loved clothes and fashion.
Like Mary Quant and Rudi Gernreich, Cardin wanted to democratize fashion. He was interested in theater and design in general. At 97, he can be considered one of the last survivors of this era of fashion, which was largely a reaction to the stuffiness of previous decades, e.g. tight wasp waists, full skirts and nipped in jackets or ruffled gowns.
A new exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum has brought this all back to me. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it.
Images courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.