It is the penultimate designer label status item, a $2.3-million executive jet, and Pierre Cardin was at Page Terminal Saturday to see his design and to dot the "i" on his signature near the door.
"You like it, you like it?" asked Cardin to those around him, breaking into the smile of a shy student being handed his first A-plus graded paper, as he got his first look at the sleek black, red and white striped plane. "It's smaller than I thought," he said, "but it is nice.No?"
Inside the twin-engine transcontinental-range jet made by American Aviation, Cardin played like a delighted kid with the slide-away tables and push-button telephone. "The press will like it, too, don't you think?" he asked.
So the Cardin label is now on just about everything: fragrances and furniture, cars and bike, chocolates and carpets, bathrooms and kitchens, clothes, of course, plus food, wine and theater. Can there be anything else? Cardin can't think of what it might be, but of course there will be something else. "There is always something else to design," he says. "A great deal depends on where life takes you."
Recently life took him to Korea where he saw a Pierre Cardin shop filled with items with his logo. He had authorized neither shop nor the goods. In Indonesia he saw a tie with a Cardin label, a YSL print lining.
Last week in Washington with Cardin "directrice" Mme. Nicole Alphand, wife of Herve Alphand, the former French ambassador to the United States from France. Cardin made personal appearances as part of a French promotion at Bloomingdale's. But his visit also generated a press conference with White House special trade negotiator Robert Strauss on the International counterfeiting of brand names such as Levis, Cartier, Munsingwear, Walt Disney, and of course, Cardin.
"You buy something with a label because you trust the design and quality. But if it is not mine, then you are being cheated," Cardin said. "And I am losing thousands of dollars, too."
Currently Cardin's name is worth at least $250 million annually, with 370 licencees making hundreds of Cardin-designed items sold in 40 countries, including Russia.
Cardin is probably the biggest and best known label today. In a recent survey in Japan, according to Cardin, 82 percent of those interviewed recognized his name. (In that country, the name is also on Kimonos).
Pierre Cardin, 56, is his own best salesman, a promoter cleverer than anyone he can hire. But in a quiet way, careful, soft, almost poetic. He is late for an appointment when no one is with him because, he says, he was strolling and lost track of time. He's known for having a battered Simca and a Chevrolet.
His first two days in Washington he was wearing the same brown striped suit, printed green narrowish, rounded collar shirt. He checks the signature in the stem of his black rimmed glasses. Yes, he says, "everything I have on is a Cardin design."
How is it possible for a man to find enough hours in the day to create all the things that legitimely boast his logo?
Cardin seems surprised at the question, although he has heard it often. He's heard the claims, to, of those who say they really do his designing and he pooh-poohs that as well.
"I have a studio of 12 people," Cardin begins. "They are technicians, specialists. I give them the shape, the material, the color, the volume. I give them the first sketches. They carry out the details like pockets, cuffs." (Adds Alphand, "He always must put the okay on the final design.")
He begins to explain more animatedly. "When I do a sweater. I say I want it large, smooth, light pastel, all of the sense of the style."
Twice a year he produces clothing collections for men and women of 250 pieces or more. "For two months I incubate myself I talk to no one. Not even to Mme. Alphand. And I work very fast."
Suddenly he is out of his chair and starts "designing" a dress on a visitor. He slides an ashtray under the shoulder to show a changed shape, tugs at the hem of the blouse and skirt to show the rushed way he creates.
"Some designers sit back in a chair directing others to change the silhoutte," he says, "but I pin, I cut, I do everything myself." Suddenly he stops, smiles shyly at his spontaneous "mannequin" and sits down.
He sends his thousands of designs to factories all over the world. Always they are specifically identified with swatches, sketches, sometimes an original sample. Sometimes, he admits, they do not come out the way he has designed them.
"We have a problem with some people," admits Cardin. "It is like having a large family, 10 children perhaps. One is very bad. But you cannot control them all."
Pierre Cardin comes from a large and poor family. He was born in a village near Venice and by age 2 he was traveling with his father who was looking for work in France.
He recalls playing as a child in Grenoble in the fabric shop of the father of a friend, unraveling yards and yards of pink and white tulle and at age 14 working for a tailor during school vacations and learning how to cut and sew.
He was a poor student, but he got his diploma and afterwards acted in local theaters. He took off for Paris by train and bike, convinced he could succeed as an actor in the big city. But he was stopped en route at a World War II military barrier in Vichy, questioned and tossed briefly into jail.
When he got out of jail, he took the first job he could find, sewing for a Vichy clothing store. Then at age 23, he took off once again for Paris and landed a job with Jean Cocteau and Christian Berard, creating costumes and masks for films and plays, including the classic "Beauty and the Beast."
But the money was meagre. And at the prodding of a neighbor, a friend who was a sometimes [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and a reader of cards, Cardin sought a job in the haute couture, first with Paquin, then Schaparelli, then Christian Dior. When the New Look was created in 1947, he was head of the workshop for coats and suits in that couture house.
After a misunderstanding with Dior he quit the house. Dior, who openly regretted the decision, kept sending customers to him, particularly for ball gowns.
By 1950 Cardin had established himself on Paris' little known Rue Richepene and recalls doing as much as $60,000 a day in sales at that time.
Three years later he moved to the chic Faubourg St. Honore and started to show his collection twice yearly to raves from the press. Soon there was a shop for men, then women. In 1959, much to the dismay of his colleagues who thought it was shameful for a haute-couture label to be on less expensive, mass-produced clothing, he came out with a ready-to-wear collection, the first couture designer to do so.
But even as they scoffed, other French couturedesigners followed suit, producing ready-to-wear menswear, furniture.
In 1970 Cardin purchased for $30 million a theater near the American Embassy where he brought performances by Renata Tebaldi, Ella Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich and others. Again the other designers were outraged over what they considered a dilution of a designer name. Yet in New York where he hoped to sign up Equus for a French production recently, Cardin found he was beaten out by one day by Pierre Berge, partner of Yves Saint Laurent.RTCardin clearly objects to being asked if the great range of his designing hasn't weakened the impact of his once highly influential men's and women's designs. He revolutionized American menswear with his nipped-waistline, wide-taped high-armhole suits, introduced in Bonwit Teller in New York in 1965, a look only changing now.
His vinyl trim designs, bubble dresses, sweater dresses and mini-chemises influenced American fashion for years.
"It's not so," says Cardin quietly but firmly. "Look at the dress of Mme. Alphand: I made it four years ago and it is just right today." He's right. Alphand is wearing a blouson top dress with narrow skirt that is very much in line with the current silhoutte. "Mme. Alphand was the only one to buy that style," says Cardin.
"Pierre is tomorrow, not yesterday," says Alphand. "And when he is the day after tomorrow, people don't understand."
If his strong fashion influence is waning, particularly in women's clothes, most of his customers don't know it or don't care. "His position is sound. There are endless people out there who want the Cardin label. He is a powerful brand image," says menswear authority Robert L. Green.
Whatever: Twice yearly Cardin picks up a check for $1 million for the manufacture in America of his menswear alone.
"I'm not interested in money, but creation," insists Cardin. "Creation is the stimulation. Otherwise I could put money in the bank and have no problems."
He has no second home. No fancy car. He admits, though, that he is tempted by that Cardin-signed jet.
"Mostly, though I don't spend money," he says. "I don't have the time."