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DOC NYC 2019: “House of Cardin” Film Review

The documentary “House of Cardin” opens with an eye-catching montage splicing together clips of designer Pierre Cardin’s avant-garde work in fashion, design and art. His fellow designers and employees are awestruck by his artistic talent spanning over 50 years, but they wonder, who is the man at the center of this fashion house? He’s a mystery. Jean-Pascal Hesse, the head of communications at Cardin, explains that Pierre Cardin loves to talk about himself, but refuses to allow a biography to be written about him. In a word, Pierre Cardin is an enigma. However, it would be a disservice to define his work in one word. 

“Who is Pierre Cardin?” It’s certainly not a question with a simple answer. He’s a profoundly layered individual who goes far beyond the role of a fashion designer to let his creativity reign in the artistic world.

Directed by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, “House of Cardin” looks into the life of prolific Haute Couture designer Pierre Cardin. The documentary uses clips of Cardin’s past interviews and runway shows and current footage of the 97-year-old designer. The filmmakers take us step-by-step through the details of Cardin’s life, beginning with his childhood in Italy, which led to a quick escape to France to flee Mussolini’s fascist regime. In France, Cardin’s love for fashion flourished, and it was there he found a prosperous career as a designer. He started at House of Paquin, moving on to Christian Dior and eventually started up his own fashion house. 

Much like the 2014 documentary “Dior and I” exploring designer Raf Simmon’s work for Dior, “House of Cardin” takes the viewer through the ins and outs of a prominent fashion house. We get to see the history of Cardin’s designs and what motivates his intricate work. Cardin is revolutionary when it comes to style and business. He is often ahead of the curve by decades, with his fashion choices completely unaffected by current trends.

The documentary highlights how he changed fashion in countless ways. Through the changing landscape of the ‘60s, he brought bold colors and shapes to A-line dresses and showcased avant-garde lunar fashion that mirrored the exciting space-age that America was embracing. Cardin loved to experiment with different textures and styles in a way that no one else could. He crossed cultural barriers to go to China, Russia and Japan to bring new fashion to countries that didn’t embrace it, even staging a runway show on the Great Wall of China. Cardin is fearless in fashion and bold in his ideas. 

House of Cardin

It’s not just Cardin’s career in fashion that Ebersole and Hughes are interested in showing the viewer, though. They take us through Cardin’s various creative endeavors, including his interest in architecture, theater and antique collection. Cardin views architecture as synonymous with fashion. The two must be in harmony to complete his vision. He’s created many beautiful modern pieces over the years that have garnered their own museum. It’s no surprise that he’s also quite theatrical. Not only has he designed many movie costumes over the years (getting his start with the dazzling “La Belle et la Bête” in 1945), but he also even opened his own theater to help other artists share their talents. While watching “House of Cardin,” you can feel Pierre Cardin’s deeply moving passion through the arts in each frame. 

I do wish “House of Cardin” had spent a little bit more time detailing Pierre Cardin’s personal life. (What were his parents like? Did he get along with his siblings? Did he ever find love beyond the relationships mentioned?) There is a section near the end that talks about his relationships, but it is fast. I find Cardin to be such a fascinating figure that I’d be very interested to know more about what went on behind-the-scenes in his life. However, I understand that he wants to keep some things private, and that is his business. 

“House of Cardin” is a riveting documentary about a brilliant artist who strives for creativity in every aspect of his life. If you are interested in art, fashion or film, I highly recommend watching this documentary to find out a bit more about the mysterious Pierre Cardin, the man behind the designs.

“House of Cardin” premiered on November 9 at DOC NYC. Follow Shuffle Online on TwitterInstagram and Facebook. Love our work? Buy us a coffee on Ko-Fi!

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