HOUSE OF CARDIN gets 6.5/10 On brand

Directed by P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes

Starring Pierre Cardin, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Naomi Campbell, Sharon Stone


“It is my name by my creations, but it is no longer as a human person. I won’t say that it was me that made such a thing, since it’s the brand itself. Thus the brand is the third dimension… Ultimately it is no longer me.”
Pierre Cardin

Futurist, icon, global brand – Pierre Cardin’s creations were the some of the most quintessential pieces for  the later half of the 20th century. With such a legendary and prolific designer, it is difficult to cover the entirety of such a life, and the impact that it has had in the fashion industry, yet that is the task that House of Cardin sets itself. In this Herculean effort we’re presented with a treasure trove of archival footage, and celebrity and professional interviews (including access to the nonagenarian designer himself), to attempt to unlock the man behind the name.

This scatter-shot approach is ultimately the documentary’s downfall. Although we’re given a comprehensive history of the man and his designs, we never really end up with a sense of the person behind the myth. True, we do get the occasional genuine moment, a flash of character as we see the 98 year old Cardin reflect on his past or connect with a piece of art, but this documentary is much more a history of the designer rather than a personal portrait. House of Cardin might excuse this by stating that its subject comes from a bygone era where they are more private in what they share in the media, but it makes promises to reveal the man behind the brand name in its first few minutes of screen time. As such House of Cardin sets itself up for failure.

Yet there is something fascinating about this documentary. It may not deliver on the premise that it sets itself, and it may not delve deeply enough into a single aspect of Cardin’s varied career to do it justice, but it is a fascinating reminder of the breadth of the designer’s influence. The wide reaching effect of Cardin across fashion, film, art, industrial design, and marketing – is hard to overstate, and House of Cardin is a vivid and colourful reminder of this. It shows us from decade to decade how the fashion house has not merely evolved, but been an influence in global trends promoting a more international and democratic style of fashion.

It also touches upon the strange contradictions found within the man himself. A person that has democratised and industrialised fashion, a modernist with a passion for the classics, someone that is torn between art and the commercial, accused of being both a socialist and a capitalist – Cardin is an enigma. Frustratingly, House of Cardin does not go into depth with these contradictions, seeing it either as the core of the man himself or the process of ageing to become the establishment, but it is gratifying to see these contradictions at least raised.

A film that presents a rich vision for the fashionista inside us all, even if it fails to hone in on the enigma behind its topic, House of Cardin is a slick and stylish reminder of the brand and the career of the man behind it.