Exhibit Visit - "Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future" at SCADFash
A few weeks ago, my mom, my friend Lizzie, and I headed back to the Savannah College of Art and Design's Museum of Fashion and Film to see Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future.
I wasn't jumping up and down with eagerness to see this particular exhibit. Futuristic isn't my thing. But I'd go just about anywhere with Lizzie; we always have a good time and I always learn something.
The first thing we saw was this wool houndstooth "sack back" suit from 1957. It's one of my favorites. I suppose that's because it looks as if he's still designing for Dior. Things haven't gone full-on modernist just yet, as the space age had only officially begun that year, on October 4, with the launching of Sputnik:
Immediately next to this was the first large display.
The wool coat dress at far left is also from 1957, but shows signs of the design elements Cardin has repeated for decades. He definitely has a thing for circles. As we move to the right, the styles become decidedly more "mod" -- minimalist, geometric, devoid of pattern (all reasons I'm generally not a fan).
Here's a closer view of the pair at center:
We agreed that Cardin's designs for women tend to be wearable (not all, as you'll see, but most). But his menswear can be flat-out ridiculous. The thought of our husbands sauntering down the street in that faux-leather codpiece ensemble had us cry-laughing. The dress is from 1968, the man's ensemble from 1967. We noted how much the man's jumpsuit resembles a spacesuit sans helmet.
I kind of like the green and cream number. I think Lizzie mentioned owning (and wearing) it or a facsimile back in the day, which was 1968. I'm guessing she didn't wear it with its coordinating straw hat.
Even on Cardin's wool-jersey clothes the trim is vinyl, not leather. Perhaps the synthetic seemed a more modern choice? Lizzie told us the older vinyl is the bane of Cardin collectors, as it tends to disintegrate. It's the weighted silk of the space age, I said.
The black, yellow, and red dresses above are from 2013-2016. All with the mini-shift silhouette and the circles. You've got to admire the guy's consistency. This is nearly 50 years later and it's hard to tell the old from the new without close inspection and SCAD's online guide. The jumper dress on the right is made of neoprene. Yuck.
The diamond-shaped vinyl belt on the wool-jersey tunic dress and bodysuit set below, from Cardin's 1967 "Cosmocorps" collection, echoes the larger, vinyl diamond trimming the capelet of the red dress above. And, you can see a moth bite at the skirt's upper left. Makes you wonder about all those "museum quality" listings you see online. This is, after all, in a museum.
It's no coincidence that it looks like a crew uniform aboard the Starship Enterprise. I've never enjoyed Star Trek and other set-in-the-future programs because the clothing and interior spaces are so sterile. No art on the walls. No tablecloths. No framed photos. No stacks of books. It makes me sad to imagine a future free from wallpaper, florals, and houseplants. Is there no place in the future for lace? The occasional ruffle? Plaid?
Here's some pattern. This op-art inspired dress from 1968 is comprised of 128 plastic squares, each printed with a green circle and laced together with fishing line. Not sure who it would flatter, beyond a Twiggy-figured model. But it's kind of neat.
Next up was this collection of "carwash" dresses, all made of wool crepe and jersey. Note the spacesuit-inspired bubble helmet and more circles and vinyl on the first model. The one at center is especially collectible and hard to find. Don't worry, I won't be bidding against you. The one at right is interesting in that the strips of fabric loop up to connect at the waistband. There is something very "pre-disco" about this get-up, no? Like them or not, I'd bet they're lots of fun to wear, what with all the swishing and swaying.
I almost kind of like these wildly popular, iconic "op art shifts" from Cardin's 1966 collection. They'd definitely up my cool quotient but, being made of wool, would require Benadryl to avoid my breaking out in hives (decidedly uncool). I wonder if anyone was ever shot through with an arrow while wearing the one at right.
Made me think of this favorite The Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson:
Next came my favorite part of the exhibit -- the evening gowns. Here's a peek into the display area. Now we're talking. Color, pattern, texture!
Below you see someone revealing that yes, there's a way for the arms to escape the purple and gold satin dress and grab an hors d'oeuvre. The dress is not, in fact, a combination evening gown and diet aid and straitjacket. Let me state for the record that I do not condone this behavior (this was one of those very rare "do as I do, not as I say" situations):
I didn't dislike this dress. It's interesting, vaguely Oriental, and made of real silk. Who could wear it without resembling a lumpy cocoon, I don't know. And must you spend the evening with your arms akimbo to maintain the shape? Regardless, I still kind of like it. It looks somehow comforting (as well as comfortable).
We all thought this gown from 2000 was gorgeous, even if it's made of stretch synthetic velvet. So often, the overall quality of an otherwise beautiful garment was compromised by less-than-luxurious fabrics. We wondered why this was. By the turn of the new millennium it wasn't a matter of being futuristic. So what, then? Note, too, the continued use of circles (ovals).
We also agreed that this silk strapless from 1990 was lovely, and practical for storing one's snacks (or perhaps flower petals for strewing about in one's wake). But why the tacky flowers in clashing colors? Ruined it for me. Also, more circles (ovals).
This 1977 gown was fun, but despite being made of wool and silk, it looked less-than-expensive up close. In fact, it's better in the picture than it was in person:
Here are two gown and jacket ensembles of silk with Swarovski crystals, from 2013. All three of us preferred the mauve. Mom and Lizzie really disliked the green color (I didn't). But we agreed the green ensemble was ongepochket -- overwrought, too much going on. The mauve has all the same elements -- draped gown, rhinestone straps, exuberant shrug -- but they come together in a tidier, more flattering way. The pretty color is a bonus.
The edge of the jacket reminded me of the brim of a hat I made for a recent movie shoot. Not surprisingly, my fledgling skills don't match those of Cardin's atelier:
Our #1 favorite evening look was this sophisticated, beautifully draped number, from 2017:
Here's the description provided at SCADFash's online guide (as usual, there was no printed/posted information; you had to refer to a website for details. SCAD will provide a tablet, but for the non-technologically inclined such as my mom, it's a drag):
What kind of tulle? Silk, cotton, or (most likely) nylon? What kind of satin? Cotton, polyester, or (most likely) silk? Weave and fiber aren't the same thing. But the information comes directly from Pierre Cardin, and I'd imagine SCADFash would hesitate to add or subtract information from that provided.
We had another good laugh over the men's formalwear, although these examples, from 2010 and 2013, really weren't too bad. OK, maybe the sequined jumpsuit is a bit much. But I could see the purple synthetic, giant-cummerbund and rubber-chestplate number on a young, hip, Grammy-nominated artist.
And isn't it unfair that women have such a wide range of options while men have been stuck in the same black tuxedo for nearly two centuries, with little room for personal expression? I remind myself that 18th century menswear, with its frills and frippery, is my all-time favorite.
Still, there's a fine line between stylish and silly -- and Cardin's designs for men seem to cross it more often than not. Who wouldn't look like a goober in these outfits? I can't imagine walking unembarrassed, arm in arm with a guy dressed in any of these:
There was outerwear on display, including this wool "bubble coat" from 1968. I kind of like the fun design -- oh hey, a circle, whadya know -- and the neutral camel color. But maybe it looks a bit like a squished peanut?
These two, from Cardin's "Computers" collection, supposedly recall the sack-back design. All I could imagine was trying to ride the subway. Surely these are jackets intended for women who never sit down. Look at the construction. Fascinating! Both are wool and from 1980.
The last and largest display showcased three main groupings, each of which stylistically overlapped the next. I call them B&W, bouncy circles, and geometric metallics.
Here are most of the B&Ws. Lizzie and I particularly liked the longer dress with its nod to the 1920s. The harlequin dress is from 1981 and of silk, the rest are from 2017 and synthetic (ugh).
This swirling riot of circles is the bridge to the bouncy group. It reminds me a bit of Norma Kamali, and although it's from 2009 (and of "jersey" of unknown fiber) looks very 80s to me. The best part is the gigantic matching hat.
My mom's favorite of the exhibit was the silver number from 2008, at right below. I have to say, it's pretty spectacular. A video showed how very bouncy these dresses are on the runway. I don't know if I'd want to be that jiggly at an event. I'd feel like a human mobile in a stiff wind. And can you sit down? I know it's easily done in hoop skirt or bustle, so perhaps this is similar? The red is silk jersey, from 2012. It has the same flower detail as the pink and green strapless, but here I think it works.
Mom's favorite silver dress serves as the bridge to the geometric metallics. Not my favorites, and home to winner of the most-ridiculous menswear outfit award. It's the one with shoulder wafers and a helmet, in the circular display. For a clearer view, see it on SCADFash's online guide (link provided below):
There was one dress in the metallics group that's worth sharing with you. This one, of sequined synthetic fabric, from 2016:
Attendez! Monsieur Cardin, aimez-vous les cercles?
If you'd like a more academic (i.e. more knowledgeable and less opinionated) take on the exhibit, here is Lizzie's review. For more background on Cardin's career, click here. To see professional images of all the items on display, click here for SCADFash's online guide.
Wow, I do hope that exhibit lands here…would love to view it in person. Wild design, well executed. Looks like you all had a wonderful time!
An exhibition with you, Liza, is always an experience!
Thank you for the awesome post! I too admire these but for myself prefer an hourglass silhouette of the 50s and also prints. These looks remind me of Brutalist architecture and of that film Sleeper by Woody Allen.