Outfest 2020 Film Review: The House of Cardin ★★★1/2

Pierre Cardin –  a label, a logo, a contradiction, a sell-out? Here is P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes’ The House of Cardin to answer some of these questions and give us, less of an in-depth look at the life of the man, but more a celebration of the influence and rise of the eponymous brand.  Fashion documentaries have become a staple of the medium and it feels like an inquisitive look at the iconic, pioneering (and somewhat faded) fashion empire of Pierre Cardin is long overdue. 

The House of Cardin. Courtesy of Outfest.

A self-taught tailor who worked under Christian Dior in the 40s (the groundbreaking New Look), Pierre Cardin would launch a label that broke new ground through the 60s. Along with the likes of Vidal Sassoon, Cardin set the look of that decade and became one of the world’s most ubiquitous fashion super-brands.  From his promotion of diverse faces in fashion (using Japanese models like Hiroko Matsumoto) to his sharp, structural style, Cardin would be one of the first fashion labels to become a fully-fledged modern ‘lifestyle brand’ – fragrances, furniture, cars, planes, celebrity endorsements, film and theatre costumes – we may be used to today’s fashion brands reaching out into every facet of life, but Cardin was a pioneer.  

The House of Cardin. Courtesy of Outfest.

Among the eclectic and notable voices in the mix we hear from Naomi Campbell, Dionne Warwick, Phillipe Starck, Jenny Shimizu, Sharon Stone, Jean-Michele Jarre, Kenzo Takada, Alice Cooper and Jean Paul Gaultier – all singing the praises of the Italian born designer for championing the democratisation of fashion and reaching into new territories like Japan, China and Russia.

Naomi Campbell in The House of Cardin. Courtesy of Outfest.

As a look at Cardin’s fashion and futurist mindset, The House of Cardin delivers a broad slice of fashion history, charting the rise and diffusion of Pierre Cardin. The documentary does comment on Cardin’s ‘slap-a-logo-on-anything’ licensing that has seen the brand lose some of its prestige, but only briefly and a critical voice is conspicuously absent. While the man himself is given only a glancing look over. His intense and contradictory relationships with Andre Oliver and Jeanne Moreau are mentioned, but not examined too deeply. But these contextual voids leave space to examine the audacious fashion at its peak. While the brand may be more synonymous with marked-down belts in discount stores these days, it’s undeniable that Pierre Cardin changed the course of fashion in ways that must be celebrated.

By Chad Armstrong

The House of Cardin is available to stream for a limited period at OutfestLA2020.com as part of this year’s Outfest.

Pierre Cardin’s provocatively phallic fragrance. © Pierre Cardin.

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