VENICE  There’s serendipity in “House of Cardin” premiering in Venice. Globally known as a French designer, Pierre Cardin was actually born near Treviso, less than an hour away from Venice, and named Pietro.

And it was obvious on Friday that the designer would do anything to attend the screening of the documentary on his life bowing at the Venice Film Festival. Despite his age — 97 — Cardin endured a staggering 27-hour train ride to Venice due to “fires on the road,” he said, to get to the Lido’s Casinò Palace for the screening. After the film, which received a standing ovation, he took the time to talk to the press and pose for selfies with well-wishers.

“I like seeing myself up there — I forgot I was young,” said Cardin smiling, when asked about his feelings watching the movie. “And there were a lot of things I never saw before. I was moved to tears,” he admitted.

The film, directed by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, self-described “Cardinophiles,” approaches the designer’s multi-faceted creative undertakings and starts with trying to answer the question: “Who is Cardin?” Ebersole and Hughes themselves, married for 20 years and proud owners of a Cardin AMC Javelin, featured in the film, admitted they always thought of Pierre Cardin as a brand and not as the person behind it.

P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes Moris Puccio/WWD
P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes Moris Puccio/WWD

“He is an emperor, he wanted to reach many people, he showed on the Great Wall, went to India, Russia,” Jean-Paul Gaultier, who worked with Cardin, says in the film. “He taught me to be free.”

“Chic” is one definition of the couturier offered by Dionne Warwick in the film. “What’s not to admire?” wonders Sharon Stone, who remembered how Cardin defined her beauty as “a white rose.” A differentiation that impressed the actress, who began thinking that the designer could see how every woman could be associated to a different flower.

“He revolutionized the business,” muses Naomi Campbell. “He was a tailor and a tailor will always eat.” To be true, Cardin is a self-taught master at cutting and sewing, who as a child enjoyed dressing dolls. “I didn’t know what a couturier was,” says Cardin in the film.

One of nine siblings, his family escaped fascism, fleeing to France in 1924, and the film details his first steps in fashion, starting out at the house of Paquin, then working for Christian Dior and Schiaparelli, and his circle of artists, including Jean Cocteau, Christian Bérard, Pierpaolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti. “I was handsome, everyone wanted to sleep with me,” Cardin says in the film, which had the audience laughing out loud.

When he branched out on his own, Dior sent him 144 roses, and his first red, pleated coat sold 200,000 pieces in the U.S. — two tidbits from those early days. Cardin’s relationship with actress Jeanne Moreau and his protégé Andre Oliver are also explored.

“People may associate him with glamor, but here’s a hard-working man, one who had and has a vision of the future,” said Ebersole. To be sure, Cardin, who still works every day, says in the film that work is what makes him happy. “It is my reason for being,” he said Friday.

Cardin was ahead of his peers in democratizing fashion, freeing women with his unconstricting shapes, says Hanae Mori in the film, and employing diverse models, venturing into men’s wear and furniture, turning eyewear into hot accessories, and traveling to bring his fashion around the world when globalization was not a given. Modern and a risk-taker are definitions that run throughout the documentary, which also includes interviews with the likes of Kenzo Takada, Philippe Starck and Trina Turk, to name a few. “And you can see how consistent and authentic he has been throughout his life,” said Hughes.

A still from “House of Cardin.” courtesy image

Cardin has often been accused of diluting his brand through countless licenses, but he simply says in the film about designing a Westwind jet, “Why not?” At the same time, he is seen urging his collaborators during a meeting to preserve the label’s identity. Hughes on Friday underscored that “people may think that greed was behind all this licensing, but this is not at all true.” It was a way to channel his creativity, which also allowed the designer to be financially solid, and support theater and the arts. “I would have loved to be an artist,” Cardin says in the film, which also touches on the designer’s cultural activities at the Espace Cardin and the Festival de Lacoste, France, his acquisition of iconic restaurant Maxim’s, and his real estate investments, including a most recent purchase of a 10,800-square-foot house in Houdan, which he calls “the house of dreams.”

“Do what you love” is what Ebersole and Hughes learned from “House of Cardin.” They revealed they are trying to screen the film at the Brooklyn Museum, which is staging the “Future Fashion” Cardin retrospective until January.

The directors said it was easy to convince Cardin to do the film. “Just as he hired Gaultier and Starck on the spot, he said, ‘When do we start?’” said Ebersole, noting the designer felt comfortable and relaxed throughout.

“I have no regrets,” said Cardin on Friday, and, asked about future projects, he said: “To live beyond 100 years.” Always looking forward.