Naomi Campbell Featured In New Documentary On Pierre Cardin, One Of 1st Fashion Designers To Put Black Models On The Runway

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Written by Lauren DeLisa Coleman
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Model, fashion entrepreneur and philanthropist Naomi Campbell wearing a Pierre Cardin design on the set of the new documentary film, “House of Cardin”. Photo provided by “House Of Cardin”

New York City-based documentary film festival DOC NYC just wrapped up its 10th year with a line-up chock-full of films that cover diverse filmmakers and topics.

The documentary “House Of Cardin” is of particular interest given its angle on diversity and inclusion, and its focus on a major model and business entrepreneur.

Every year or so there is a much-hyped documentary on a luxury fashion brand. Many miss the mark. However “House Of Cardin” not only provides a completely thorough and insightful look at the designer behind the global brand powerhouse but also, remarkably, traces the rise of a corporation through a story that is nothing if not inspirational.

While many know the faces of iconic fashion designers such as Coco Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin’s story has been relatively unknown until now. Known for avant-garde style and Space Age designs, the French fashion designer was fascinated by geometric shapes, often ignoring the female form.

Unlike many underrepresented fashion entrepreneurs both back then and now, Cardin is never curtailed by bad breaks, debilitating illness or any other devastation. Instead, he moves unbounded from the good graces and support of Christian Dior — he worked at the legendary house in his first-ever job in the industry — to then having the famed designer give Cardin his blessings to start his own label.

Yet this smooth pathway is no cause at all for any laurel-resting of Cardin’s. 

Cardin is an innovation from the word “go” via his introduction of a new silhouette for women just at a time when the social norms were changing in the ’60s. Breaking all norms with patterns that free rather than constrict the female form, Cardin has consumers clamoring for his designs. Cardin then unleashes a string of unprecedented moves in luxury fashion that rock the industry and the market. He’s first to create a ready-to-wear line, much to the chagrin of the industry, and first to launch a menswear line, for which he serves as a model as well.

But it is his mark as one of the first to include Black models and models of color on his runway that is key in ensuring that his designs speak to a wide audience of women.

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Perhaps his relatively unencumbered rise to fame gives Cardin the freedom to think outside of the proverbial box. Iconic model Naomi Campbell speaks at length on-camera to the importance of diversity in the industry, Cardin’s mark and the reaction to the brown-skinned models he selected to represent his brand in the ’60s. Such moves reverberate with change, though still, sadly, are in the works even in today’s market.

 However, what is also intriguing is Cardin’s reach beyond the fashion industry. Though few might be familiar, Cardin launched a performance space dubbed Espace Cardin that ran successfully for 52 years and booked a number of recording artists who the designer thought were destined for fame. One in particular is the legendary Dionne Warwick, who speaks at length in the documentary. Warwick discusses her interaction with the designer, the impact his designs had on her image, and her great dismay with racism in the U.S. in the ’60s. She talks about how designers such as Cardin in France presented new views and new levels of acceptance.

Cardin was not only one of the first in the realm of inclusiveness but also the first luxury designer to enter into massive worldwide licensing deals. Though it challenged bis brand, his deal-making serves as inspiration for any new fashion entrepreneur on the scene to think in a more disruptive manner and to think globally. The financial benefits that can be reaped are staggering. Unfortunately, though, we do not learn exactly how this phase of his business was launched, who approached whom first, how new contracts were crafted, and, perhaps most importantly, who Cardin turned to for mentorship and advice to navigate tricky business waters.

It is this crucial route of securing strategic allies, support and experienced mentors that still seems shrouded in mystery for most underrepresented fashion entrepreneurs today — which is why we may see so few. Yet “House of Cardin” should still encourage inspiration and persistence to break through, think differently and leverage diversity as strength.

Follow the film’s site for information on wide release of “House Of Cardin”.