Film Review: Vibrant, Comprehensive and Insightful Pierre Cardin Documentary ‘House of Cardin’

Italian-born fashion designer Pierre Cardin is the subject of comprehensive documentary House of Cardin from filmmakers P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes. The project which arrives from Blue Finch Film Releasing on April 26th sees Cardin’s life and legacy celebrated in a vibrant fashion with involvement from the designer before his passing last year.

Ebersole and Hughes previously brought the deliciously camp Mansfield 66/67 to the screen, examining the relationship between actress Jayne Mansfield and Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan. Whilst the subject matter may not have the same tabloid sensationalism to it, House of Cardin nonetheless enthrals in diving into Cardin’s history, the emergence of his own fashion house, and his legacy as a pioneer of fashion and entrepreneurial skill. A plethora of talking head collaborators including Naomi Campbell, Dionne Warwick and Jean-Paul Gaultier add a further starry glamour and insight.

Opening with the question “Who is Pierre Cardin?” and insights from the well-selected contributors, House of Cardin soon begins a chronological account of Cardin’s rise to international success through colourful archive footage from throughout Cardin’s career. We get a sense of the designer’s origins in Italy with a visit to his childhood home (by Cardin’s nephew), whilst the scene is set amidst the rise of Mussolini’s fascists within the country – yet contributors suggest that Cardin’s Italian flair stayed with him despite his naturalisation in France. Cardin’s history during wartime is further expanded upon by documenting his life in German-occupied Vichy before moving to Paris to fulfil his desire to pursue a career in fashion despite the lingering threats of war.

House of Cardin delves into Cardin’s early career with Christian Dior and working in cinema productions such as Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast – the elaborate costumes giving some hint as the Cardin’s progressive style centred on deconstructing classic fashion looks and evolving into the future. Descriptions of Cardin’s life as a young fashion protégé is cleverly interspersed with scenes of the then elderly Cardin meeting fashion students showcasing his gentlemanly demeanour and the awe of the students towards him. This sense of Cardin’s effect on others is pivotal throughout shown in the contributions from collaborators who had work with the designer since the sixties – most notably one of his first models Maryse Gaspard now working as director of couture and a brand ambassador who plays a pivotal role in the documentary, giving us an insight into the contemporary workings of the company.

Ebersole and Hughes give a sense of Cardin as a trendsetter, unafraid to push boundaries that others in the industry were reluctant to do. This is showcased in moments recounting Cardin’s aim of making fashion universal in the battle between ready to wear and haute couture, introducing male models into his advertising and runway shows, brining diversity to his house of models (explored in his friendship with Japanese model Hiroko Matsumoto), and bringing his fashions to territories including China and Russia. There’s a truly comprehensive feel to the documentary, with the filmmakers leaving no stone unturned in capturing countless Cardin achievements. The filmmakers delve into these achievements with a strong chronological context examining Cardin’s rise to global stardom amidst the space race and the Cold War.

Whilst House of Cardin is predominantly centred on the professional achievements of Cardin, it does delve into some more personal moments – from his early life in Italy to the death of his partner Andre Oliver to AIDS – building quite a full picture of the designer’s work and personal ethics.

House of Cardin is a vibrant and comprehensive glimpse into Pierre Cardin’s life and legacy which recounts the designer’s trendsetting successes with a sense of warmth and genuine adoration. Enthusiastic contributors and an impressive sense of context help craft an enjoyable and insightful documentary, whilst its visuals and musical choices maintain a sense of high energy.

Coming to the UK and Ireland on April 26