Glamour? It’s about learning to cover up.
Pierre Cardin arrives in a dark green Jaguar driven by a chauffeur dressed in an impeccable blue uniform. The fashion designer gets out wearing a blue jacket with gold buttons, a shirt with large checks and a white collar, white pants, and small glasses ringed in black. His office is a large, disorderly room full of photographs, designs, and memories.
How much of the Italian side of you remains?
I owe my success to France and the recognition of my talent to France, but I am still Italian at heart and in terms of taste.
Where were your parents from?
Venice. I came to France at age two. I learned Italian later, however. After spending his childhood in the countryside, my father sought refuge in France at age sixty because he had lost everything in the war. I went to live in Vichy. I lived there through the war years from 1940 to 1945, and then I came to Paris where I began to work in fashion in the very famous Paquin fashion house.
What was Vichy like during the war?
I worked with the Red Cross. I worked with poor people that had problems and were looking for help. I have to say that, despite the war, I was fine. I was twenty years old, and I got through things. I was arrested by the Germans in Moulin while I was trying to get to Paris. Fortunately, I wasn’t Jewish and they didn’t deport me. After the war, I didn’t feel like continuing to be a Red Cross worker. A fortune teller – a sixty-five-year-old woman in Vichy – read my cards and told me that I would be successful, exceptionally successful, and that my name would be known as far away as Australia. I thought she was crazy because, at that time, I didn’t have anything. I asked her for a name in Paris so I could get started with a fashion house. When I arrived in Paris, I remember that it was early morning, and I was in the Rue Royal going to the house of the person whose name she had given me. I stopped a man on the street to ask him where the house was, and he was the person I was going to see. I showed up at Paquin, and there I met Cocteau, Bérard, and Jean Marais. They were making costumes for the film Beauty and the Beast.
Has your life changed a lot since then?
No. Nothing has changed despite my success. Of course today I have much more money. I am well known. But I live in the same way.
How do you live?
I live alone in a hotel I own. In a small flat on the ground floor where I have my own entrance. I also have many homes in Paris, but I never go to them.
How do you see the world?
I’ve already been around the world twenty-seven times. I’ve been to Japan fifty-eight times, to India thirty-seven times, to Russia twenty-eight times, and to China twenty-two times… The world seems really small to me. I no longer see the world as being the same size as I did forty years ago. I travel with a small suitcase. I travel in a hurry, and I never trust anyone else with my suitcase. I keep it with me. I used to travel for fun, but now fun and work are all mixed together and thus I travel mostly for work. I remember seeing Mrs. Gandhi and her son in India. I met Mother Teresa. I have met heads of state all over the world, from the Emperor of Japan to the Kennedys, from Mandela to Fidel Castro. I knew the Communist countries well, even though I went there with a capitalist image. I found this contrast interesting.
What do you do on Sundays?
I work. When I am in Paris, I stay alone in the office where nobody can disturb me. I get my affairs in order. Sometimes I work from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. But I spent this last weekend in Port La Galère where I have a very unique house that has an adjacent theatre. I also spend a few days there in August.
What are your thoughts about fashion?
I learned from Dior. One shouldn’t show too much. For me elegance is about concealing. Today they show everything. I don’t want to sound old and boring, but for me the clothing is what counts. The body is like a liquid that takes the shape of the vase. Today it’s all about the body. For me, showing too much of somebody is not at all exciting. It’s not all about sex and the body.
What do you think about Prada and Gucci?
They are commercial brands. Gucci is not a tailor. He is a leather maker that made suitcases. Visconti gave me my first Gucci suitcase. I found success without money. I made it on talent alone. That’s how I made my name. The banks didn’t create me. I am the only owner of my brand.
What about Armani?
He is not a man of great creativity. He makes clothes that are elegant, very wearable, and of beautiful quality. But that isn’t creativity. But I don’t want to criticise.
Are things good or bad in fashion?
Bad. People look too much to Hollywood stars and fashion magazines for inspiration. It’s a Baroque interpretation, but young people today are like that. But I would like to be young today as well.
La Stampa, 12 June 1998