Pierre Cardin, Paris (fashion house)
French est. 1950

Interest in the space race manifested in the art, architecture, design and fashion of the 1960s, with Pierre Cardin’s contributions some of the most representative within fashion. Cardin designed successfully through both the 1950s and 1960s, but his futuristic fashions of the latter period are more widely remembered by history for their sculptural design approach.

Cardin mastered expert tailoring during his short terms at three highly acclaimed couturiers: Jeanne Paquin, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior. Dior immediately recognised Cardin’s superb technical abilities and offered him the position of inaugural head of his coat and suit studio in 1946, where Cardin produced Dior’s famous Bar suit, 1947. Later, at his own couture house, Cardin experimented with sculptural cocoon-like coats, engineered pleats and gathers in jacket backs and composed concentric oval drapes into unusual skirt fronts. He also developed a reputation for his novel treatment of collars, which elegantly framed the face in enormous, asymmetrical, scalloped or rolled folds.

In the 1960s, Cardin translated the skills he established as a couturier in the 1950s into garments for a new age. His 1966 collection reflected the Soviet Union’s first successful soft landing on the moon, and in 1969, the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Cardin designed the newly acquired Jacket and mini dress. Cardin’s inventive forms, often based on geometric shapes, were designed for a newly imagined future. These shapes often became disassociated from the body, as Cardin’s adept moulding of heavyweight wool fabric allowed him to create forms that resisted the traditional curves of the female body. His designs created their own outline, and were seen to represent the spirit of the space age and a future world.

In Jacket and mini dress, the jacket’s collar and hem is formed as one piece from a padded circle stitched with three concentric circles. Cardin would often start from a basic geometric shape and then modify it with almost mathematical precision. The jacket’s sculpted collar projects the space-age aesthetic of hard, moulded forms that encircle the body. The circular cut forces the edges out so that its raised edges cocoon the face and neck, while at the back the circle kicks out, creating a highly sculptural form around the body. From 1957 onwards, Cardin manipulated collars with consummate skill in the knowledge that a large collar enclosing and focusing attention on an attractive face will almost always have a dramatic impact.

The emphasis on youth in the 1960s also manifested in straighter silhouettes and shorter skirts, evident in the shortened length of Cardin’s accompanying dress. In Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties (1992), Joel Lobenthal describes Cardin as an ‘intrepid explorer of Euclidean and botanic abstractions’ whose designs perfectly suited the spirit of 1960s space travel.

Paola Di Trocchio, Assistant Curator, International Fashion and Textiles, national gallery of Victoria (in 2013).