‘India’s silk is more valuable than gold’

PIERRE CARDIN tells Humra Quraishi that he was the first foreign designer to buy Indian fabric and introduce them to the West and his most favourite fabric is Khadi Born on 2 July 1922, Pierre Cardin is perhaps the oldest surviving designer who recently celebrated his 98th birthday. I had met and interviewed him in New Delhi, way back at the start of 1989, when he had flown down from Paris to design T-shirts for shirts for the Surajkund Crafts Mela and also to hold fashion shows…Mind you, all this was free of cost…Nah, he didn’t charge, for those designer shirts nor for the fashion shows. To why he had told me,during the course of that interview, at the Ashoka Hotel’s presidential suite where he was put up, “Simply because I’m a friend of India, it’s government and people. Its tiring for me to travel and follow this hectic schedule but I’m doing so for the sake of friendship and goodwill. I’d first come here in 1965. In fact, I am the first foreign designer to buy Indian fabric and introduce them to the West.”

Edited Excerpts from an interview •


Which particular Indian fabric fascinates you the most?

The Khadi. In fact, your textiles, the silks and cottons, are beautiful. Silk is more important and valuable than gold…. I use a lot of Khadi in the making of garments.

Besides being good, Indian fabrics are cheap as compared to fabrics from other countries. Do you take advantage of this fact?

No, no. The Indian fabric is no longer cheap by the time it reaches us, with heavy customs and air freight charges that we have to pay. I buy it because it is good.

But doesn’t it sadden you that we Indians still do not realize the value of our textiles and grab the synthetics?

This is no longer true. I am seeing a definite trend towards the use of silk and cotton. Of course, in the West, synthetics are no longer fashionable.

You designed a shirt for the Crafts Mela. What did you have in mind whilst designing it for the Indians?

Well, it is made of Khadi and it is loose and comfortable, keeping in mind the proportions of the body. The motto on it symbolizes a man and a woman who create a new life.

Whilst designing, what are your priorities and target groups?

My basic aim is to make the dress comfortable and also more wearable for the working woman. Even I work hard, 18-20 hours a day, so I go in for comfortable clothes. Every woman has the right to be fashionable and should have a desire to buy and that desire to buy has to be created. Fashion is very, very important. Because if there is no fashion, then there is no business and if there is no business then factories will close down, which will mean unemployment for thousands …Over the last few decades there has been a definite change in the fashion world — in the sense that in the fifties or say in the sixties only the rich had the right to be fashionable…. I design for every single women. For the masses.”

If you are designing for every single woman then how do you retain that exclusiveness attached to your designer collection ?

The exclusiveness comes from the fact that I keep changing the designs. I design over 250 new garments every season. You cannot have the same style. They have to be different like moods, season times etc.

Which part of the body do you highlight whilst designing?

Nothing in particular. At times I make long and loose dress, at times short. It all depends …for this coming spring season we are in for long dresses with a lot of material in greens, blacks and browns.

Which type of women attract you?

Every woman can be fascinating. I feel beauty is not enough. There has to be personality. And most important for a woman is to be herself, to respect herself.

What is your concept of an ideal woman?

I change …At times a tall woman could fascinate me, attract me. Or at other times a short lady could be charming. But I feel in fashion the age factor is very important.

What type of women put you off?

Difficult to answer this. I dress every woman. But all that I can say is that I don’t like women who look or, say dress ridiculously. If you have fat legs then why wear a short skirt. It is not necessary to wear particular clothes if they don’t suit you. Wear simple instead of wearing loud stuff and looking stupid.

Do your women friends always wear outfits designed by you?

No, they wear mine plus from other houses. It is like eating in a restaurant. You are faithful to one but you still frequent the other restaurants.

You have been visiting India right from 1965. Have you noticed any difference in the fashion scene here?

A lot. In 1965, I saw girls in churidars, but now I’m seeing  a number of girls wearing pants. Though for the evening parties, it’s still the sari which is good because it gives a sense of your country.

How do you find sari as a dress?

It is not a dress. It is a material …But I really feel hurt when I have to cut it to make dresses.

Any particular Indian dress inspired you?

I’m totally original…And let me tell you that originality is better than copying. All my designs are conceived in my head.

In India only the rich have the privilege of following fashions but the other socio- economic groups cannot do so. How can we break this monopoly?

I design for the masses, the common person…But this story doesn’t hold true only in the Indian context but even in Europe. In the West, the elite women of big towns can follow the changing fashions but the women in the countryside buy new fashionable garments only once in two or three years or maybe not even then.

Do the changing values, from good to bad, affect one’s personality vis-a-vis fashion, that is hardened women in feminine outfits?

Not really. In fact, you must do what you want to do .Be yourself.If you want to be nude,be nude.Don’t bother what others say.

How important is the value of your name, your label in the business world?

Name or brand is very, very important, whether it is cigarettes, food, clothes or anything. You buy your favourite brand. But remember my name was not built in a day but in 40 years.

You have been called a workaholic. How do you cope with the tensions and pressures?

Yes, I work for hours; say 18 to 20 hours but my work is also my biggest relaxation.