At the premiere of the 1972 film ”Siddhartha” in Venice, a leading French magazine wanted to click Simi Garewal and Pierre Cardin together for an ”East meets West” photo op. ”I was dressed in a sari. In French, he (Cardin) kept saying I looked beautiful,” Garewal said, recalling the incident at the Venice Film Festival.
Years later Cardin came to India and when they met she was in a western dress. ”He asked me, ’Where is that sari?’ He loved sari so much”, she told PTI.
The legendary French designer who died Tuesday at age 98 left an indelible impression on generations of Indian fashion icons, from Garewal in the 70s to contemporary designers such as Tarun Tahiliani and Manish Malhotra. Many remember him as one of the first few international designers who brought their clothing lines to India in the 1980s when foreign brands were still a rarity and accessible only the well-traveled.
The first-ever fashion show Tahiliani watched as a young man living in Mumbai was Cardin’s because his wife Sailaja was one of the models at the show. That’s how I ended up seeing my first ever fashion show of any consequence. And I sketched for a day and night. I then knew this is what I wanted to do,” he told PTI. Tahiliani said he met Cardin around two decades ago and told the designer about how he inspired him.
”I said ’It’s all because of you’. Had I not seen the show, who knows what my path would have been because at that time there was no real fashion in India, it was a textile industry.” Cardin's ability to draw inspiration from eclectic themes, motifs, and cultures is best illustrated by Garewal’s encounter that continued after his sari compliment when the two went into a coffee room.
”Shashi Kapoor (her co-star in the film) joined us and suggested him to watch Siddhartha’. He asked what does he wear in the film. Shashi Kapoor told him that he wears a dhoti and they started talking a little bit about that,” she said. Celebrated designer Rina Dhaka said when she started reading fashion magazines as a girl in the 1980-90s, if there was one global name she knew it was Cardin’s, a thought also echoed by FDCI Chairman Sunil Sethi who has fond memories of attending his show in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village in 1994.
Dhaka said post-1990s, one saw Cardin not so much on catwalks for women or men but more in accessories after he started licensing products such as pens, wallets and furniture using his brand name. ”He became renowned down to the fact that ’I own a Pierre Cardin pen in India or wherever I could be’. He was in many ways a great example of how we as designers can adapt to changing times and still be able to continue a brand over so many decades,” Dhaka told PTI.
Sethi recalled the 1994 Cardin show in Hauz Khas Village. ”For us it was the event to go to. I remember the excitement of attending the show. Even today, how many international brands have had the courage to come here with their full collection and launch it while they launch their international collections?” Sethi told PTI.
Cardin defined ”aspiration” for his generation, he said, adding that French fashion always held fascination for Indians and Cardin was the one who brought it to the country. ”There can be a debate on whether he should have diluted the brand or not, but the credit of showing other designers how a fashion designer’s brand equity can be leveraged, goes to him,” Sethi added.
Cardin was an inspiration too for couturier Rahul Mishra, who described the French icon as a ”complete designer” whose work transcends eras. ”He was one of the most renowned designers in both luxury and life. From pens to caps, he was the one who started licensing products using the brand name. ”He was the first modernist designer the world has seen. The designs he created in the 1950s look as if they are from the year 2050,” Mishra told PTI.
When Mishra was studying at the Milan-based Istituto Marangoni, the private Italian school of fashion and design, one of his faculty members used to address Cardin as ”Pierre Cardini, because he was originally an Italian”. ”It was his father who removed the ’i’ in Cardini when they went to Paris in his early days. He was a haute couturier in the 1950s. An undisputed thought leader and disrupter who changed fashion. He was a complete designer – be it clothes, pens, furniture, etc,” he added.
Fashion designer Samant Chauhan said one of Cardin’s most important contributions was combining the ’mini’ and the ’maxi’ skirts of the 1970s. ”In the 1970s, fashion was more exclusive, and couturiers in Paris had a very limited clientele. The whole market is still very secretive. At that time, it was brave of him to move from haute couture to ready-to-wear,” said Chauhan..
First Published: IST