At 98, Pierre Cardin has existed for so long as both a person and a brand that he has considered himself at least as much an “element” as a “human being.” And if, as he says, he is an element, then surely he must be gold. By his own estimation, over the course of his career he has employed around 90,000 people in 63 countries, and has stamped his insignia on about 800 products ranging from ball gowns to AMC Javelins and electric razors.
To appreciate the oracular Cardin, who launched his own business in 1950 with the benediction of his mentor, Christian Dior, it is helpful to recite a partial litany of some of his “firsts.” Cardin was the first haute couturier to sell ready-to-wear, at the Printemps department store, in 1959—an insurgent maneuver that precipitated his expulsion from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. He was the first to exploit comprehensively the lucrative practice of licensing, and to recognize the marketing power of a visible logo. He was the first Western designer to bring his wares to the Far East, at a time when Chinese citizens were still in Mao uniforms. A longtime enthusiast of space travel, Cardin was the first civilian permitted to walk in Buzz Aldrin’s NASA moon suit.