Pierre Cardin already has plans for attiring people in 2069. According to the legendary 97-year-old designer, “women will wear Plexiglas cloche hats and tube clothing; men will wear elliptical pants and kinetic tunics.” In other words, it will be the ‘60s a all over again.
Cardin has staked many claims to fame over the eight decades of his career, from the unprecedented ready-to-wear line he introduced in 1959 to the costumes he designed for the Beatles in 1963 to his audacious brand extensions into eyewear and cosmetics in the ‘70s. He has designed cars and airplanes and even invented a new moldable fabric called Cardine. Through all of this – much of which is included in an extensive retrospective currently at the Brooklyn Museum – Cardin anticipated the celebrity-driven mass-produced branding opportunity that mainstream fashion has become, while also helping to redefine the role of the designer as an industry-independent choreographer of desire. But the work most likely to stand the test of time – probably well beyond 2069 – is the space-age Cosmocorps collection he first presented in 1964.
The Cosmocorps line was designed for the final frontier in fashion. “I imagined wearing these costumes in space,” Cardin explains in an interview for the Brooklyn Museum exhibition catalogue. Just three years after Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit, and five years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first posed for photos on the Moon, Cardin was contemplating a cosmic brand extension, and considering what the space suit might look like if the design weren’t strictly utilitarian.
Although Cardin was not scientific about it – as space suit designers such as Dava Newman are today – the Cosmocorps gambit was more than a mere marketing ploy. (If that were the only point, it would have been a flop. Cardin reveals in his catalogue interview that his space-age attire sold terribly. “I had to create clothes that were more classic and therefore more commercial,” he admits, explaining many of the contradictory aspects of his career, in which conventional distinctions between avant-garde and suburban mall are simply ignored.) Through Cosmicorps, Cardin explored how social dynamics might manifest on other planets. For instance he advanced the possibility that ideas about gender might become less fixed in microgravity, by creating unisex attire that challenged terrestrial mores. In a way, his fashion paralleled the Soviet space program, which treated men and women as equals and dressed them in the same way. However the motivations of the Soviet government were fundamentally pragmatic. Cardin, on the other hand, had no restrictions; he could just as well have designed lunar ball gowns.
Cosmocorps was equally notable for provoking people to think about colonization of other planets in a tangible way. Of course colonization scenarios were already a staple of science fiction, familiar plot lines in movies and books. However there’s an important distinction between seeing or reading about possible futures and actually trying them on for size. The Cosmocorps line is not costume. These garments weren’t made to realize a movie or TV series. (Cardin did that too. He costumed the John Steed and Emma Peel characters for The Avengers.)