French fashion icon Pierre Cardin, who made his name by selling designer clothes to the masses, has died aged 98.

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France’s Fine Arts Academy announced the news in a statement.

In a career spanning more than 60 years, Cardin drew scorn and admiration from fellow fashion designers for his brash business sense.

He maintained that he built his business empire without ever asking a bank for a loan.

Cardin was the first designer to sell clothes collections in department stores in the late 1950s, and the first to enter the licensing business for perfumes, accessories and even food — now a major profit driver for many fashion houses.

“It’s all the same to me whether I am doing sleeves for dresses or table legs,” he once said.

Hard as it may be to imagine decades later, Armani chocolates, Bulgari hotels and Gucci sunglasses are all based on Cardin’s realisation that a fashion brand’s glamour had endless merchandising potential.

Over the years his name has been stamped on razor blades, household goods, and tacky accessories — even cheap boxer shorts.

He once said it would not bother him to have his initials etched into rolls of toilet paper, and he was also the inspiration for a phallus-like perfume flask.

His detractors accused him of destroying the value of his brand and the notion of luxury in general. But he seemed largely unaffected by criticism.

“I had a sense for marketing my name,” Cardin told Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in 2007.

“Does money spoil one’s ideas? I don’t dream of money after all, but while I’m dreaming, I’m making money.

“It’s never been about the money.”

Blonde woman wears large red coat with white spot

Cardin once wanted to become an actor

Born near Venice on July 2, 1922, to French parents of Italian descent, Cardin was educated in the not-so-glamorous French city of Saint Etienne.

He went to work for a tailor in nearby Vichy at age 17 and dreamt for a time of becoming an actor, doing some work on the stage as well as modelling and dancing professionally.

When he came to Paris in 1945, he made theatrical masks and costumes for Jean Cocteau’s film, Beauty and the Beast, and a year later joined the then-unknown Christian Dior.

His first big commercial venture, when he teamed up with the Printemps department store in the late 1950s, led to him being briefly expelled from the rarefied guild of French fashion designers, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture.

Couturiers in that club were forbidden at that time to show outside their Paris salons, let alone in department stores.

He also blazed a trail outside France long before other fashion multinationals in a search for new markets.

He presented a collection in Communist China in 1979 when it was still largely closed to the outside world.

Elderly man with white hair, dark glasses, dark coat

And just two years after the Berlin Wall came down, in 1991, a Cardin fashion show on Moscow’s Red Square attracted a crowd of 200,000.

Cardin also expanded into new businesses, buying fabled Paris restaurant Maxim’s in the 1980s and opening replica outlets around the world.

He leveraged the investment further by launching Minim’s, a chain of fancy fast-food joints that reproduced the Belle Epoque decor of the original exclusive Paris eatery.

His empire embraces perfumes, foods, industrial design, real estate, entertainment and even fresh flowers.

True to his taste for futuristic designs, Cardin also owned the Palais des Bulles, or Bubble Palace, a residence and events venue set in the cliffs of one of the most exclusive strips of the French riviera.

A chateau in the village of Lacoste that once belonged to the Marquis de Sade also belonged to him.

For his latest venture in February this year he teamed up with a designer seven decades his junior.

Pierre Courtial, 27, unveiled a collection at Cardin’s studio on Paris’s chic Rue Saint-Honore, with pieces that echoed some of the veteran designer’s geometrical aesthetics.

Cardin said he still rated originality above anything else.

“I’ve always tried to be different, to be myself,” Cardin said.

“Whether people like it or not, that’s not what matters.”

He had also mentored prominent designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier.