Great sadness at the loss of a giant who touched my life in a unique way.
In his long life, M. Cardin was met and fêted by countless celebrities, political leaders, royalty, and just about every “important” person. However, what always floored me was his belief that the Artist had the most important role of all. He told me this many times. This is not something he said just to be gallant; he really believed it in his heart.
His culture was colossal. Well into his nineties, I witnessed him cite during dinner entire passages of literature and philosophy just to amuse us—all done with a smile and inimitable savoir-faire. He loved music and opera and had a passion for Wagner; he could hum just about any leitmotif from Tristan or the Ring. His favourite piano concerto was the Schumann A minor. It is his love for music that brought us together. In 2016, he invited me to his beautiful Festival de Lacoste, at the château of the Marquis de Sade in Provence. Until then, the festival had welcomed the great operatic stars of the day. My task would be to help give the festival a more instrumental bend, which we accomplished thanks to the crucial help of Rodrigo Basilicati and the gracious presence of my beloved Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Annie Dutoit, and other good friends.
There was a certain imperturbable poise and solemnity about M. Cardin that was natural and simple, yet at the same time, unguarded and open, curious to find out who the person in front of him was. When we would dine at his celebrated chez Maxim’s on rue Royale, he would always find a moment to get up from our table and personally greet every guest. This wouldn’t be a cursory handshake; he would strike up a conversation and would generously give of himself. As is usually the case, true genius came with sincere humility. He knew every staff member by name, from the waiters to the cabaret singers. His attention to detail was astounding. He knew every item on the menu. His favourite was the pommes de terre soufflées «Maxim», which he recommended the first time he took me to dinner and immediately became my favourite too!
On that night in July of 2016, M. Cardin did get to hear his much-loved Schumann concerto, played by me and the Toulon Orchestra under the great Gabor Takacs-Nagy. As I finished the last notes, M. Cardin was moved to tears. He told me once again that when all was said and done, only an artist was able to transport people to such a place. Coming from a man that had seen it all and done it all, I was deeply moved too and humbled by his sincerity and generosity.
A class act through and through, Pierre Cardin is one of my last links to a vanishing world where elegance and refinement were values to be admired and strived for. Un grand merci et bon voyage, mon cher Monsieur Cardin. Votre étoile brille toujours.
Pierre Cardin, celebrated Italian-French fashion designer, businessman and patron of the arts, died on 29 December 2020 at the age of 98.