Pierre Cardin, the 95-year-old iconic French couturier, remains one of the most‑referenced (and most‑lauded) fixtures in fashion. Thanks to an ambitious new exhibition in collaboration with The Preservation Society of Newport County, Pierre Cardin: 70 Years of Innovation, at the Rosecliff mansion in Newport, his work is getting the attention it so richly deserves. In June, Cardin’s French entourage descended on Rhode Island to toast the affair with a runway show. The exhibition, which features 42 designs from Cardin’s private collection, will be on view through January 1, 2018.
“I really wanted to incorporate pieces from the beginning of his career, from the time he spent working for Christian Dior, forming the new look in 1946, to when his career took off in the 1960s,” said curator Ashley Householder, who managed to pull together the 42-piece exhibition in a matter of months. The exhibition also displays some of Cardin’s furniture designs, as well as a room dedicated to Maxim’s, the famed French Belle Epoque restaurant that Cardin has owned since 1981.
THE FASHION SHOW
To toast Pierre Cardin: 70 Years of Innovation, Cardin imported a slew of New York models and his intimates to host a fashion show spanning seven centuries of his designs. Held at Newport manse Rosecliff, the affair was presided over by Maryse Gaspard, Cardin’s director of haute couture; his nephew Rodrigo Basilicata; and Matthew Gonder, a close friend and the headlining act at Maxim’s who served as master of ceremonies for the show. “I’m so sorry not to be there—I’m in my bed, but my heart is with you all,” said Cardin over the phone from Paris. A recent fall forced him to cancel his trip to the States.
MEET THE MUSE
An impossibly chic former model and muse turned haute couture director for Cardin, Maryse Gaspard has worked with Pierre Cardin for more than 50 years.
Maryse, how did you meet Monsieur Cardin?
When I was 19 years old, a friend of Pierre Cardin’s said, “You should become a model.” He sent me to see him with a note of introduction. I tried to dress how I thought a model would dress—I had a big purse, a jacket, and a hat, but they were all in beige. When Mr. Cardin finally arrived, he told me to take off my hat and to walk, and right away he said, “Tomorrow you will come and present the collection.” I never even gave him the note!
Were you nervous?
I had never done a fashion show before. The collection had already been fitted on other models, and I was the tallest one. I had breasts and big feet, but I squeezed myself into the looks and the shoes. [Laughs] My feet really hurt! I watched how the other girls made themselves up and did the same. That’s how I made my entrée into haute couture.
You went on to become his lifelong muse.
He cut my hair to my chin, in the Vidal Sassoon style, and he taught me how to pose. With every collection, he transformed me.
Did you ever work with other designers?
I took photos with magazines, but I would never have walked in a show for Saint Laurent or Dior. I wanted to remain loyal to Mr. Cardin.
At what point did you start working with him in his design studio?
I stayed with Pierre Cardin as a mannequin for 10 years, but then I knew it was time to stop because I did not want to be known as the old model at Pierre Cardin. I began to work for Mr. Cardin’s director of haute couture, Nicole Alphand, who was the wife of the former French ambassador to the United States. That’s how Jackie Kennedy came to be dressed by us. I learned so much from Madame Alphand. At 30 years old, I became the director of haute couture, and have remained so ever since. Mr. Cardin trusted me. He gave me the opportunity to travel the world. He gave me my chance, and I will always be loyal to him for that.