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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Monday, 9 April 2007

On Meeting Pierre Cardin

Captions: A younger Cardin above from Badanco and the famous model Linda Morand wearing a Cardin. Credit to a classy retro site maintained and owned by Emerald Alexander and below, an older Cardin.

by Susan Abraham

I once met the classic French designer Pierre Cardin for a celebrity breakfast interview, at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur. It was his rare appearance in Asia.

He had come to show a private collection a few days later, wanting in his reclusive way, only the journalists present. But this was an exclusive story for the magazine I wrote so while Cardin breakfasted, the photographer and I settled for coffee and sweets.

He was very much the immaculate and sombre gentleman, slightly nervous and sedate in an ash-blue suit and with a neatly-folded handkerchief resting in his lapel pocket.

He was passionate about fashion and recalled his dedicated years working with Christian Dior. He remembered the stars. The women were different then, he protested. "...graceful, elegant..."

He would testify to them as fresh Greek goddesses.

Suddenly from a convivial moment the designer moved into a harried conjecture as he proceeded to turn tempestous; recalling injustices, long past but of which the memories were still fresh. I had probed into a sore area. And while I got my story, I also had to put up with a fair amount of Cardin's temper at the world in general. Cardin could get easily riled up and was often volatile and fiery in his speeches.

He stoutly loved an older sister, a lady well into her 90's and with whom he visited almost every day in France. He was proud of his Maxim chain of restaurants that stayed crowded in the big European cities and also in New York. He invited me to one of them. Plus, he owned a castle.

He still kept to the themes and ideas of yesteryear - being once famous for his landmark space-bubble suits that carouseled the swinging '60s into a more colourful twist - and was not that open to change. Yet, he was seen as a practical couturier.

Cardin was also slightly critical of modern designers, demanding again with some feeling, that I understand his perceptions and embrace his philosophies with rigid agreement and no secondary hesitation. To keep the peace, I agreed.

A few days later, I attended the fashion show, held on a weekend morning.

A dashing moustached Frenchman appeared at my side and asked if I could help publicise Cardin's original perfumes that would be soon manufactured. I have long lost his card but I remembered being engaged in a captivating conversation and was completely smitten by the faith Cardin's staff vowed with easy charm, over the designer's products.

I also watched with keen interest, an older French lady who had travelled with the Cardin entourage and was choreographer to the models.

She wore striking sunglasses, gorgeous orange lipstick and commanded a slick, smooth style, that matchd her ponytail accessories with a short skirt. Her movements were lured by an extraordinary grace. I felt even then that she was performing the ballet on stage.

I have carried her face with me and that of the affable perfume-gentleman with me all this time like a dim torch. I had been to dozens of fashion shows but felt that there was a sprinkle of stardust that morning..not perhaps because it was a private media showing but in the way that I could relate to the workings of Cardin and his colleagues.

When the old interest in journalism abruptly sprung up last month and the pull to return to it on a serious, regular basis, tugged at me with an enthusiasm that was so delightful, it became painful, I couldn't decide if it was to be fashion or the arts.

Then I saw once again the two of them with their tasteful finesse: that woman's swan-like movements which belied her age and that of the good-humoured French gentleman who worked under Cardin, who had commanded a mastery with his scents and yet spoke with nothing more than profound simplicity.

And then I think through the magic of that morning that was still prevalent within me and which had now arrowed out of the darkness in a silent camaraderie, I think then... that I just knew.


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