Dresses are displayed at the Pierre Cardin's 'Future Fashion' Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in New York on July 19, 2019. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)
The Brooklyn Museum in New York is staging the first big Pierre Cardin retrospective in decades in an effort to help refresh a once-bold image that had faded a bit over the years.
"Who is Pierre Cardin?" That is the question museum curator Matthew Yokobosky said he wants to answer with "Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion", which opened Saturday and continues until January 5, 2020.
The exhibit takes visitors back to the designer's beginnings, with no sign of the more than 850 licensed Cardin products cranked out since the late 1960s.
Those mass market products helped popularize Cardin's name but they also diluted his identity, so much so that his vast contribution is rarely if ever mentioned, with the notable exception of Jean-Paul Gaultier, who once worked for Cardin.
Rather than focus on the mass-market fashions, Yokobosky concentrated on one-of-a-kind couture pieces from the personal archives of the fashion house, generously opened to him by the 97-year-old creator himself.
At center stage are the bold, inspired, avant-garde choices of the 1960s, as the museum introduces a generation that knows Cardin mainly through his classic shirts to the radicality of his early days.
"The '60s were so innovative for him," Yokobosky said. "I don't think he ever slept. He had so many ideas. He didn't stop, he just kept creating."
'It's all about movement'
A tailor's apprentice at the age of 14, Cardin knew how to make the clothes he designed, a rare skill in today's fashion world but which helped him translate ideas into reality.
"That's the reason he was able to do new designs," Yokobosky said, "because he really understood construction."
Among his most emblematic creations: the high-waisted dress titled "Carwash," with its vertical cords that swished back and forth when a woman moved; and the dress with a "kinetic back", reminiscent of a Calder mobile made of wool crepe.
"It's all about movement," Yokobosky explained.
Cardin also made playful use of new materials, notably vinyl and Cardine - his own invention.
'No small imagination'
The exhibit plays on Cardin's fascination with futurism and space exploration. Some tight-fitting outfits are reminiscent of the uniforms worn on TV series Star Trek, with a unisex spirit ahead of their time. His "Computer" coat was inspired by the integrated circuit boards Cardin had seen in IBM computers.
Yokobosky wanted to show both "who Mr. Cardin is and how fantastic his designs are."
The exhibit pays homage to Cardin not just as designer but as creator -- someone who found inspiration in everything from rubberized molds of food from Maxim's -- the famed Paris restaurant he bought in 1981 after frequenting it for years -- to Chinese pagodas.
"He thinks really big all the time," Yokobosky said. "There's no small imagination."
The museum aims to take the exhibit to other US cities, then to Asia, where Cardin has long been popular.
Yokobosky hopes the show will end up in France, where Cardin, who hates flying, would himself be able to see it.
"It'd be amazing."