This article was originally written by Tao Duanfang, a Well-known commentator and scholar in Canada, and translated by after it was licensed. Copyright belongs to the original author and it is forbidden to reprint without permission.

Author: Tao Duanfang

Pierre Cardin (Pierre Cardin), a famous Italian-French fashion designer, prominent businessman and patron of the arts, died in Paris, France, on December 29th at the age of 98.

Pierre Cardin and China: a new page for each other

As a French learner from an early age, I first heard the French name Pierre Cardin in a TV “shorthand show” that had nothing to do with France, fashion, or fashion. At that time, “Comrade Wang Wei, a famous master of shorthand,” who performed with famous crosstalk actors Hou Yaowen and Shi Fukuan, quickly wrote down a pile of irrelevant words and concepts, including the name “French fashion master Pierre Cardin.”

As a result, I became very interested in this foreign tailor who is said to be “the first foreign tailor to climb the Great Wall”. I know that he came to China as early as 1978, climbed the Great Wall, and promised, “I want to put the T-shaped platform here.”

The following spring, 12 refreshing foreign female models (8 French and 4 Japanese) took the first “cat step” on the land of New China on the makeshift T-shaped platform of the Cultural Palace for Nationalities in Beijing. “Chief Director” is Pierre Cardin; in October 1981, Pierre Cardin held another epoch-making fashion show at the Beijing Hotel. This time, it was all Chinese models who took the “cat step”.

In 1986, six “Pierre Cardin models” walked out of Jinshui Bridge with cat steps side by side, which was once warmly applauded by Chinese “passers-by” who were like “watching the raree-show”. Two years later, Pierre Cardin became the first international fashion brand to “land” China and began mass production for the Chinese mainland market. Around this time, the “authentic French Western food chain” Maxim Restaurant, known as “the first batch of Chinese mainland through the front door after the founding of the People’s Republic of China,” and its popular version of Menimus restaurant, have “settled down” in Beijing, setting off another fashion craze, and the owners of these two brothers’ restaurants are also Pierre Cardin.

When I was a university student in Beijing in the early 1990s, I coincidentally enrolled a “one-on-one” adult student learning French, one of the six Chinese female models in the Jinshuiqiao Pierre Cardin Show (I recognized it at a glance from her family photo. I later learned that she also participated in the “Beijing Hotel Pierre Cardin Show” in October 1981) and listened to her, who had transformed into a manager, a lot of anecdotes about Pierre Cardin.

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Her home was opposite Maxim / Menimus, so she also had the opportunity to “pass by”, two cultural symbols that were closely related to both China and Pierre Cardin at that time. To be able to know and understand more deeply that “Pierre Cardin’s encounter with China is a great opportunity for both sides,” it is said to come from the words of one of his close partners.

After Pierre Cardin’s death, the famous writer, composer, and actor, Jean-Michel Jarre, an old friend of Pierre Cardin, the first Western artist to take part in public performances in China after the Reform and Opening began, recalled in the Le Parisien newspaper that Pierre Cardin had been “keeping childlike excitement for a long time” about his trip to China that year, because “he was always oriented to the future, and in his view, China represented the future. He was proud that he had had the privilege of participating in it and had benefited a lot from it.”

In 2018, Pierre Cardin, who had always touted himself as “never nostalgic”, returned to the Great Wall to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Pierre Cardin and China”, which was enough to highlight the importance of China in his heart.

The same is true for China: in the age of “blue ants”, the Pierre Cardin Show caught people’s eyes and became interested in the unfamiliar concept of fashion. From the moment that the “cat step” in the Cultural Palace for Nationalities started, onlookers (this was an “internal performance”, so onlookers were considered to have “seen the world” at that time) all embarrassed and turned their heads back neatly, to the friendly applause of “passers-by” in front of Jinshuiqiao. Less than a decade later, this is not only the first decade of China’s Reform and Opening-up but also the first decade of “Chinese Fashion”. Pierre Cardin tied the knot with China in an unusual first decade, which is a new page for each other.

An offbeat name

It was in the days closest to the physics distance of Pierre Cardin’s “China World” that I began to know that he was not the “top name” of the international fashion world: Shen Dali, a university teacher and famous writer familiar with French anecdotes, said in small talk. Christian Dior’s level was a truly international fashion master, and Pierre Cardin was “just the first employee of Dior.”

Pierre Cardin was born on July 2, 1922, in San Biagio di Callalta, near Venice, Italy. In his childhood, his parents fled to Saint-Étienne in France to escape the fascist persecution of Mussolini, where he began his career as an apprentice in a tailor’s shop.

In 1944, he went to Paris alone, where he was recognized by France’s first famous female fashion designer, Jeanne Paquin, and then another Italian-born female fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, also discovered his talent and began to recommend the young man to a series of film and television crews. Filmmakers Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard put him in charge of the production of clothes and headgear for the famous film “Beauty and the Beast” (La Belle et la Bête), which made him famous. In 1947, Christian Dior founded the Fashion House, and Pierre Cardin became the first employee.

In 1950, Pierre Cardin left Dior to set up an independent fashion house, started his own design, and soon became unique with the bold innovation of color and fabric. In 1954 and 1957, he opened the female ready-to-wear boutique brand Eve and the men’s ready-to-wear boutique brand, Adam. In 1957, he traveled to Japan “for a relationship” to teach fashion design and embraced Oriental elements for the first time; in 1959 and 1960, he launched his first women’s and men’s ready-to-wear brands respectively and began designing costumes for popular fashion bands such as The Beatles.

He famously said, “Fashion is the X-ray of society” (La mode, c’est une radiographie de la société.), and once threatened to “design fashion for both the Duchess of Windsor and her gardener.” He didn’t mind at all about giving his ideas to department store brands such as Paris Spring that produce popular suits by paid transfers, didn’t care of the fact that they would copy the fashionable dresses in large quantities like producing plastic slippers and sold around the world rather than “small-batch, manual” production according to the rules. He is also keen to leave the “high-end” show and walk the show in the plazas and on the street. According to him, “I am an opponent, a provocateur, an adventurer. Dior wants to make the clothes he wants for his mother, while I want to explore new ways of space, science, and infinity.”

In response, his critics said that “it’s just for the money”: although he won a record “three golden dice” (Dé d’Or, the highest honor in the fashion world), he, who was considered by many to be “not a top fashion designer” to his death, was one of the richest people in the circle. His fashion chain opened all over the world and the first international fashion brand to enter the Soviet Union and China belonged to Pierre Cardin. He embraced fashion, from the Beatles to the Atlanta Olympic Games, from Fidel Castro to Nelson Mandela, always with the hot spots of the time.

He is also the most diversified businessman in the fashion world. Maxim / Menimus, two restaurants with more than 800 chain stores in more than 100 countries, are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, his “stickers” range from wine to linen, from cigars to combination cabinets, from mineral water to canned sardines, from lighters to airplanes, some of which are “related” to him. More is pure brand promotion, which makes him a lot of money, but also makes him labeled as a “grocer”(Pierre Cardin d’é picier) as if it is always a far cry from the palace of top fashion.

He is obviously not convinced about this who has always been competitive. A few years before his death, he said that those big-name independent fashion designers who were famous in the early 1970s had now been knocked down with money by “omnipotent capital”, become a vassal attached to consortia and big brands, while Pierre Cardan, whom they regarded as an outsider, had always maintained the arrogant posture of an independent fashion brand.

The art of loneliness

Pierre Cardin always had a sense of loneliness, and as the first civilian to wear a spacesuit, he looked around and asked, “where is there a second man like me?” He is a tireless traveler who has spent much of his life traveling around the world, constantly trying to set up T-runways, arrange shows, and open specialty stores in seemingly impossible places.

In 2004, he once said, “I belong to the generation of Zazous (a cynical fashion of French youth during the German occupation of World War II), hippies, Saint-Germain-des-prés (the Paris’ literary style ‘neighborhood), Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre (both were famous representatives of French existentialism in the 1960s and 1970s) and Juliette Gréco (a famous postwar French singer with a bumpy fate that just died on September 23 this year), now people can’t understand me.” “I am a prehistoric dinosaur.” But he also yearned for the respect and recognition of society and others, and always enthusiastically participated in all kinds of public affairs, and did not hesitate to spend money and energy.

His love of fashion is unswerving. a friend of his childhood said that he never disdained to repeat the design ideas of others or even himself in the name of “nostalgia” and “homage”, while his friend said that fashion design was “Pierre Cardin’s drug”. Until he was 90, he couldn’t help feeling relieved to be busy in the workshop several times a day.

Keen to portray himself as an artist with extraordinary taste and more than just tailoring and making money, Pierre Cardin bought the castle of Marquis de Sade in 2001 to host the annual drama festival there, and he invited Hungarian architect Antti Lovag, to design the grotesque and futuristic Palais Bulles, for him in the coastal province of Théoule-sur-Mer, which has also become a destination for hosting a series of art salons.

He also rented one of the most upscale theatres in central Paris and operated it willfully for 40 years before reluctantly returning the key to the Paris City Hall on March 31, 2016. But his painstaking intentions do not always resonate: as “the last big stroke of his life”, he once said in a high profile that he would build a 255-meter-high “landmark building”, the Lumiere Palace, by the lake in his hometown of Venice. He also said that “this will be an eternal garden dedicated to his hometown”, but the Italian Ministry of Culture and Property responded with an embarrassing silence. In the end, the “eternal garden” came to an end.

Perhaps, it is this diligence, pioneering spirit, and “cross-border” that makes it difficult for him to be fully accepted by the haughty “pure fashion world”, but also makes him “the most approachable fashion businessman”. Perhaps, it is this diligence, pioneering spirit, and “cross-border” that makes “Pierre Cardin’s Fashion” and “New China’s Fashion” spark dramatically-“Pierre Cardin’s Fashion” may not be the most fashionable at that time, but he is really the closest fashion to the Chinese who have just begun to embrace the world at the early time of Reform and Opening-up.