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Pierre Cardin, Fashion Designer of the Space Age, Dies at 98

PARIS—Pierre Cardin, the designer whose Space Age clothes made him a pillar of avant-garde fashion and who later earned a fortune—and criticism—licensing his name to hundreds of mass-market products, died Tuesday morning in the French capital region. He was 98 years old.

France’s Academy of Fine Arts, which announced his death, said his family didn’t disclose a cause.

Inspired by the jet age, Mr. Cardin’s futuristic silhouettes and use of experimental materials propelled him into the public consciousness in the 1960s, changing how people imagined the future. His designs of the era featured ellipses and circles, clothes made from vinyl and accessories molded of plexiglass. In an early ‘60s episode of the Space Age cartoon “The Jetsons,” one character describes her dress as a “Pierre Martian original.”


Pierre Cardin: From a Tailor’s Cutter to Fashion Mogul

Pierre Cardin participated in the opening of the Pierre Cardin Museum exhibition “Passe Present Futur” in Paris in 2014. Mr. Cardin presented his first fashion collection in 1954.
YOAN VALAT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“I was very influenced by the satellites, by the moon, by the entire cosmos, by astronauts,” Mr. Cardin said in 2010. “My first designs were based on the moon.”

Mr. Cardin upended the fashion industry over nearly seven decades. He became one of the first French couturiers to sell ready-to-wear versions of his designs and pioneered the use of licensing. Starting in the 1970s, he began to sell the rights to his name widely, on everything from sunglasses and perfume to cars and kitchen appliances. Mr. Cardin once said he would license his name for a roll of toilet paper if given the chance.

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Mr. Cardin posed with models after his fashion show in Vietnam in 1993.

Photo: hoang dinh nam/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

That strategy is now frowned upon by luxury-industry executives, who say allowing a brand to be plastered on a wide range of products dilutes its value.

Pietro Costante Cardin was born on July 2, 1922, in Sant’Andrea di Barbarana, Italy, a small town near Venice. He and his parents, who were impoverished by World War I, emigrated to France when Mr. Cardin was 2 years old and settled in Saint-Etienne, an industrial city in southeast France.

“I am a child of poor people,” Mr. Cardin said. “My parents lost everything in the war of 1914.”

During World War II, Mr. Cardin worked as a bookkeeper at the Red Cross in Vichy, in central France. He went to Paris after the war in 1945 and got his start as a tailor at Paquin, one of France’s elite fashion houses of the day. He was hired by Christian Dior a year later. In 1950, Mr. Cardin founded his own fashion house.

In 1959, Mr. Cardin became one of the first couturiers to make ready-to-wear versions of his designs, with a collection for the Printemps department store. The move caused an uproar in the exclusive world of Parisian fashion. France’s haute-couture trade body expelled him, then reinstated him shortly after.

In the ‘60s, his designs were increasingly influenced by scientific discoveries and space travel. Mr. Cardin had no tolerance for nostalgia that would make his designs seem old.

“I am interested in modern science, planes, everything that’s atomic, sports cars,” Mr. Cardin said in 1968.

He created clothes out of a fabric he called Cardine, a kind of heat-molded polyester. His models wore headpieces that resembled astronaut helmets. His 1964 collection Cosmocorps featured jumpsuits, bright colors and bold geometric shapes that jolted fashion’s traditional lineup of skirts, jackets and collared skirts.

Mr. Cardin’s ‘60s-era designs snagged celebrities such as Lauren Bacall and the Beatles—all four of whom wore a suit without lapels that he created— and inspired the clothing on the TV show “Star Trek.”

In the late ‘70s, Mr. Cardin helped start another fashion trend: big, boxy shoulders. He drew inspiration from silhouettes he saw during a trip to China in 1978. Items such as the Pagoda coat spawned big-shoulder jackets of the 1980s.

In the late ‘60s, Mr. Cardin started to license his name to hundreds of products and maintained that he never did so without creative control over a product. Those included a car, jet, pens, watches, furniture, toiletries and dozens of other products.

Those licensing deals generated a surge in revenue, Mr. Cardin said in interviews. But over time, they appeared to devalue the brand. Pierre Cardin products were increasingly found in discount stores the world over.

Working from an office overlooking France’s Élysée Palace, Mr. Cardin in his later years began trying to sell his fashion empire for at least €1 billion. No buyers materialized.

After accumulating more than 800 licensing deals during his career, Mr. Cardin had no regrets about the strategy. “I have created a world,” Mr. Cardin told The Wall Street Journal in 2011. “Whether you like it or not, that’s another matter!”

Write to Matthew Dalton at Matthew.Dalton@wsj.com

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