It could be said that “Unzipped,” Douglas Keeves’ popular documentary about fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, started a trend.
Since that time, docs detailing the rise of influential couturiers, including Alexander McQueen (2018’s “McQueen”), Halston (2010’s “Ultrasuede” and 2019’s “Halston”), Valentino (2008’s “Valentino: The Last Emperor”), Yves Saint Lauren (2010’s “L’amour fou”) and Vivienne Westwood (“Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist”), have been the rage.
P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes’ “House of Cardin”(Utopia), about fashion legend Pierre Cardin, ranks among the best on (or off) the rack. What makes this indisputable is that Cardin, who turned 98 in early July 2020, is a strong and vibrant presence in the film. His sense of humor, his indispensable wisdom, his ongoing work ethic and a still sharp eye for detail make him one of the most endearing figures in the world of fashion.
The filmmakers do a substantial job of illuminating the Italian-born Cardin’s life, incorporating a considerable number of archival photos and film footage. Of all of Cardin’s multiple contributions to contemporary popular culture, it is his use of branding for which he may forever be remembered. The use of his signature, as well as his distinctive logo, on women’s and men’s fashions (Cardin also designed the Beatles’ famous suits) gave those who came after him the freedom to do the same. The power in his name and logo gave Cardin the opportunity for a massive amount of licensing on products such as cologne, eyewear, furniture, towels, decks of cards, an executive jet, and the interiors for early 1970s models of the AMC Javelin.
Because, as one interview subject says, “we don’t easily enter his intimacy,” there is more distance when it comes to Cardin’s personal life. Yet, when speaking about it, in the past and present, he’s unexpectedly forthcoming. For example, while talking about working as a costume maker on Jean Cocteau’s 1946 movie “Beauty and the Beast,” he mentions meeting other influential gay men from that time, such as designer Christian Bérard, actor Jean Marais, and filmmakers Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and how they all wanted to sleep with him because he was good looking. He also talks about his longtime lover (and co-designer), the late Andre Oliver, as well as actress Jeanne Moreau with whom Cardin had a lengthy romantic relationship.
Ebersole and Hughes make the most of their interview subjects including singer Dionne Warwick, actress Sharon Stone, models Naomi Campbell and Jenny Shimizu, musician Jean-Michel Jarre, rocker Alice Cooper, architect and designer Philippe Starck, journalist Amy Fine Collins, as well as a host of notables from the world of fashion such as Jean-Paul Gauthier and Kenzō Takada, to mention a few. Even if fashion is not at the top of your list of interests, there’s no denying that visionary risk-taker Pierre Cardin is a fascinating topic for a documentary. Try him on for size.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.