The documentary, House of Cardin premiered in the independent Giornate degli Autori section at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this year. It has been called “a deliciously entertaining and perceptive take on Cardin’s life”. It was directed by the filmmaking duo P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes. YRB Magazine’s Executive Editor, Jonn Nubian sat down with the directors and Rodrigo Basilicati Cardin, nephew of Pierre Cardin prior to the premiere of the film in New York City.
YRB: Why did you decide to do this project after your last film MANSFIELD 66/67?
Todd Hughes: We just were collecting Pierre Cardin. We didn’t even know there was a Pierre Cardin. We just thought it was a name on the cologne. I remember pleading with my Dad, “Could I please get the Pierre Cardin skis?” he said, “you’re just paying more for the way they look”.
P. David Ebersole: It actually all started with a coffee table. We bought a circular couch and we needed a circular coffee table and started looking, but everyone’s doing the same thing over and over. I found this beautiful Pierre Cardin designed coffee table and started to search for it but it was impossible to find. A friend of mine found it at a store in the UK and that began the obsession.
Todd Hughes: We were in Paris and there was the Musée Pierre Cardin.
(There’s a Pierre Cardin museum???) We wanted to check it out but it was closed. There is a shop next door and we went in and spoke to the guy working there. Pierre Cardin had a record label and we found one of the records at a flea market we were at earlier and showed him. We also showed him our car.
(NOTE: In 1972 and 1973 there were 4,152 AMC Javelins produced with optional interior design by Pierre Cardin.)
He said, Oh Monsieur Cardin would love to meet you. And we are like; Pierre Cardin is a real person?
P. David Ebersole: And then, how old is he? At that point he was 95. He is 97 now.
We started the project exactly two years before we premiered at Venice.
We asked does he even still see people? They said he works every day.
He goes into the store especially on Tuesdays and walks through. He said, I can’t set up a meeting for you, but I’ll tell you how to run into him and we followed his instructions.
Todd Hughes: We walked into the store all dressed up and we met Maryse Gaspard.
We don’t speak French. They don’t speak English but we just started getting along.
Then Rodrigo Basilicati Cardin came down.
YRB: Rodrigo, has anyone else tried to do a film on your uncle prior to this one?
Rodrigo Basilicati Cardin: It is the first time that, Pierre, my uncle agreed to do this. For a long time, French television, not only French, Italian and Americans proposed to make a film and every time his answer was always no. Finally, my colleague, Matthew Gonder told my uncle, if you don’t accept now, somebody will do it without your say so.
It’s better that you show who you are.
Todd Hughes: We were there because we had a documentary playing at a festival in Paris. Rodrigo was like my uncle always said no to everyone but there is a lot going on. It would be a really good time to do it. Why don’t you give me your number and I will run it by my uncle and an hour later we were meeting with Pierre and talking about it.
P. David Ebersole: He went through all the pictures on my phone and you know we own the 1972 Pierre Cardin AMC Javelin, which is the one that’s in the film. In the middle of our talk he stops on the photo and he looks at me and asked, do you drive it?
We were like yeah, it’s in perfect condition we drive it all the time. Pierre then says, okay. What do you want to do and when do you want to start?
Todd Hughes: Then for the first time we asked, who is Pierre Cardin?
I think the first thing we learned was he did the costumes for Beauty and the Beast. This guy is incredible! He diversified the runway. The first to use non-Caucasian models and the first to do prêt-à-porter, menswear and children’s wear. Stories just kept emerging about Japan then Jean Paul Gaultier and Philippe Starck.
P. David Ebersole: He’s never agreed before to do a full biography on him and he’s never allowed somebody to really spend time with him. We followed him for a year.
YRB: Rodrigo, tell us about your relationship with your uncle, Pierre Cardin.
Rodrigo Basilicati Cardin: I first met my uncle when I was 8 years old. He remembers, I don’t remember. I lived my entire life close to Venice with my engineering studies, my piano studies in Budapest and Padova. I never saw him again until I was 22 years old with my grandfather (his brother). One year later, he proposed to me to live in his house in Venice. We have been working together on projects ever since.
YRB: How long did it take you to produce this documentary?
P. David Ebersole: It took exactly two years from meeting him to premiering in Venice because my Facebook picture popped up that said “We just met Pierre Cardin”. Of course, you know half of that is post production and we followed him for a full year.
YRB: Tell us about Sharon Stone.
P. David Ebersole: Sharon Stone is interesting because we were doing research about Jeanne Moreau and we found a magazine called Paris Match with Jeanne Moreau and Sharon Stone together in it. They were girlfriends so we thought she might give us some girlfriend talk. Pierre would not talk about Jeanne Moreau or Andre Oliver. He doesn’t talk about his personal life.
YRB: Did you push him on that or was groundwork laid out when you started making the film?
Todd Hughes: We got closer and closer. Also, he picked us for a reason I think us being a gay couple, you know.
P. David Ebersole: There were no ground rules. Nobody said you can or cannot ask about this. If you asked him questions about certain things you get a very short answer. For instance if we asked about the relationship with Jean Moreau, he would answer: “She was very private and it’s important for me to respect that” then you don’t really feel like asking a follow-up question. When we asked about Andre Oliver, in the film where he says, “he left us with many regrets”. There is an openness to the answer, but it wasn’t like he wanted to really delve into and talk about that relationship.
YRB: What was it that you wanted to get out of this documentary?
Todd Hughes: From a personal level, you can catalog all of his accomplishments and I think he’s worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize for all he’s done for uniting cultures and creating a world economy. What we wanted to do is, we don’t know what this guy looks like, and we don’t know who he is. Let’s hang out with him to the point where maybe he will just reveal himself, which I think he did. He is so modest, so optimistic and so enthusiastic.
P. David Ebersole: We have worked with a lot of celebrities and ultimately they’re just people. I think for us to be able to spend time with someone that we admire so much and what he’s done was just an honor.
YRB: Besides Sharon Stone and Naomi Campbell, was there a list of celebrities that you wanted to talk about Pierre Cardin?
P. David Ebersole: His muses have tended to be people like Hiroko Matsumoto who modeled for him or Maryse Gaspardwho still works for him. The muses were not necessarily celebrities. It’s more about these strange moments with different people. Especially at L’Espace Cardin, the theatre Pierre Cardin operated for more than 50 years, all of these interesting people came through at different moments.
We found out that Dionne Warwick played concerts at L ’Espace Cardin and just wanted to see whether or not she had something to say for the film. It turned out also that she wore Pierre Cardin on the cover of the Make Way for Dionne Warwick album.
Those are the fun things about making a documentary. When you get someone willing to talk to you and then they surprise you and tell you something you had no idea about. The connection between Burt Bacharach, Marlene Dietrich and Dionne Warwick is fantastic.
YRB: What was the process like gathering the archival footage?
Todd Hughes: It was exhausting. We had the complete Pierre Cardin archive, which you walk in there and you just go how are we going to do this? It was endless but everyone who works for him is really into the project.
Pierre doesn’t hire MBAs. He just sees you and likes you and you’re working for him.
People adapt and everyone’s in the same boat, but they’re not corporate. There are file folders labeled Jeanne Moreau and you pull out a stack of photos of Pierre Cardin and Jeanne Moreau, and you can go through them and pick out what you want for the movie. We asked if it was okay to bring people in and digitize everything. They said no. You can come in and you can look. Pierre has to approve every picture you use and then we will scan it for you.
Matthew Gonder, who is our Cardin liaison and Executive Producer on the film. He’s one of Pierre’s closest friends and was very instrumental with the archives.
YRB: How much percentage was from his archive versus other materials you found?
P. David Ebersole: It’s more than half. 80% of photographs come from the Cardin archives. There’s a French television icon archive called INA and they have decades of history.
Todd Hughes: Technologically, brilliant! Everything done on French television has been digitized and cataloged. We found things just by entering names; it’s how we found most of the footage.
YRB: Was it hard getting some of the interviews?
P. David Ebersole: We really had to work hard to get some interviews. For instance, Jean Paul Gaultier said yes immediately, but it was extremely hard to get him in the room.
He didn’t want to do a quick 20-30 minute interview. It took us a year to find a date to make sure that he had 2 hours to be able to talk to us.
YRB: What about Naomi Campbell?
Todd Hughes: We asked her because we thought she would know the story of him diversifying the runway and she’s the only celebrity who wears vintage Cardin. She said yes right away. It was just a matter of scheduling in order to make it happen.
P. David Ebersole: For Sharon Stone, we were trying to get through to her through proper channels and bemoaning it a little bit at a cocktail party with a friend of ours and she said, oh my ex-boyfriend is her ex-husband or something like that and they’re having dinner tomorrow night, should I ask him? And just like that, Sharon Stone said yes.
YRB: Was there anyone that you wanted to include that you couldn’t get?
Todd Hughes: Someone we really wanted to interview was Farah Pahlavi, the former Queen of Iran because she wore Cardin. We got a lovely letter from her; she’s not allowed to be in a documentary like this.
P. David Ebersole: The ones that we went after the hardest and it just ended up being a scheduling problem was The Beatles. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr both said yes and wanted to do it but we could not find a scheduling moment to get them in a room.
YRB: What do you want people to get out of this film?
Todd Hughes: We keep saying we want to fight ageism. To see how vibrant and brilliant this man is and how he stays young through this very simple way of living that everyone can learn from.
Rodrigo Basilicati Cardin: I want people to look at Pierre not only as a fashion designer, but as a man. I’m proud not only for his genius, but also his pure insight. Why do it only for rich people? I have to do it for everybody! He is free. He has a lot of courage and that is a good thing to see. It is an inspiration and you feel that you can do everything after watching this film. That message is important.
P. David Ebersole: Do what you love to do in life and work then it’s not work. We started working on this film asking this question, Who is Pierre Cardin? What we want is people walking away from this film with a sense that they got to know him.