During those years, Mr. Cardin also maintained a close relationship with Andre Oliver, his main assistant for more than 40 years, who died in Paris in 1993.
In his atelier, Mr. Cardin viewed the female body as an abstraction, a hanger of sorts. “I think of the dress,” he announced baldly. “The woman doesn’t matter.” He forsook his hard-edge aesthetic for a time in the 1970s, incorporating draped fabrics, pleating, quilting and asymmetrical collars and hems into his designs.
His couture collection of 1986 featured entire dresses made from billowing scarves, Bernadine Morris, the Times fashion critic at the time, deemed the collection “still quite inventive,” but dismissed its various concepts as “scattered like buckshot, so they do not come together in a comprehensive statement.” Two years later she referred to a collection of short coats with wired hems as “histrionic.”
Keeping the Name Alive
By the late 1980s and early ’90s, Cardin was revisiting his fashion archives to issue variations of 1960s space-age designs. His far-flung ventures fused the commercial and theatrical; he staged extravagant shows in Moscow’s Red Square in 1991 and a decade later in the Gobi Desert. Yet his reputation as a couturier was diminishing. By 1994, he was showing his seasonal collections primarily to a small circle of clients and journalists.
Mr. Cardin thrived nonetheless as a cultural omnivore whose eclectic interests extended from architecture to interior design and to the performance arts. As early as 1970, he told Ms. Sheppard, the fashion critic, that “I like seeing people looking at TV, seeing avant-garde plays.” Referring to the choreographer Paul Taylor, he added, “I loved the Japanese marionettes from Osaka and adore the Taylor ballets.”
His miscellaneous passions also extended to the Rolling Stones and the Doors, and the geometric Vasarely paintings that inspired his prints on wool. “If it’s little dresses people want, I can do them with my eyes closed,” he said. “But I am above all of that. My life is on an intellectual level much higher than that of La Couture.”