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Pierre Cardin died Tuesday morning at the age of 98. Posterity, that is, historians and fashion columnists, will be able to measure his legacy in its true measure: it is extraordinary. From the point of view of Parisian fashion history, it is equivalent to that of Gabrielle Chanel and Christian Dior.
This legacy is remarkable both from a fashion point of view and from that of entrepreneurial innovation: Pierre Cardin did the same by launching the licensing system like no other before him, by foreseeing and promoting the predominance of ready-made clothing over haute couture how Charles Frederick Worth and Aristide Boucicaut made a name for themselves as the giants of the fashion industry. The person who best describes this effect is Jean-Paul Gaultier, who was his student: "Pierre Cardin is Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé and atelier manager rolled into one".
So much for intellectual and artistic heritage. Now, let's get to the financial legacy that requires a brief biography. Born in Veneto, Pietro Costante Cardini, the son of Italian emigrants, came to France at the age of two. He was sixteen when he came to Paris, where he learned to sew in the 1940s with Louis Bompuis, a tailor from Saint-Etienne (the Cardini family had moved to Saint-Etienne in 1930). The young man soon got tired of working for others. After working at Paquin, Schiaparelli and Dior, he became his own boss. At the age of 28 he started his own house. The self-made man does not stop, shaking up the conventions and invents the system of licenses with which he will make his fortune from the 1960s onwards.
"My brand is worth a billion dollars."
The relationship between fashion and licensing has not always been easy. Cardin was soon ridiculed for his intensive use of licenses, which, according to some experts, can reduce the overall prestige of a label and thus its intrinsic value. Cardin, on the other hand, has always defended this system, which grants a wide variety of manufacturers and distributors the right to put a well-known and respected name on a product in exchange for “royalties”.
He didn't hesitate to say and without joking that he would have put his name on vinegar if it had been offered to him. On the television station RTL, Rodrigo Basilicati, nephew of Pierre Cardin and President of Cardin Evolution, looks back on the hour of birth of this practice: “In 1953 someone ordered 200,000 pieces of a very special red coat from him, which was difficult to manufacture. In keeping with his character, my uncle did not say no and then thought about it the following night. The next day he calls the distributor and offers to make the product himself, explaining how to do it, with the option of putting his name on it. The license was born. "
Cardin's licenses can be found on an impressively diverse range of products. With success: the name Cardin has spread like no other designer name before him across the entire planet, including China and Russia. So much so that the French term “cardinisation” in luxury marketing training denotes the danger that a luxury or top brand can tarnish the glamor of its name by misusing its licenses. This multitude of licenses makes it difficult to estimate the group's worth, despite the couturier's claim that his brand is worth $ 1 billion.
When he wanted to sell his group, the businessman put forward arguments in 2012 that never really convinced potential buyers: “I am present in around a hundred countries and have developed lines of around a hundred products. I ask for 1 million per product and 1 million per country, so 10 billion, which I am willing to reduce to 1 billion, which is still very reasonable ”. In 2005, Pierre Cardin awarded a sales mandate to the Italian consulting firm Multipartner. One of the partners, Eugenio Pinto, told Challenges magazine at the time that he had "received no bids over 320 million".
Back then, the couturier had accepted the idea of selling his assets according to their nature: textiles on the one hand, and groceries on the other (under the Maxim banner). In 2009 the couturier had already sold 32 large license agreements to two Chinese companies for 200 million euros. An audit had shown that this generated sales of around 1 billion euros for the licensees, with the Cardin Group receiving between 5 and 10 percent license fees depending on the country and type of license. Sometimes there are complications in connection with sales over the Internet: A German licensee can passively sell products in Spain digitally, to the detriment of the Spanish licensee.
In any case, in 2012 the magazine Challenges estimated that the Paris headquarters raised 75 million euros annually from the building, the Société de gestion Pierre Cardin (SGPC). Not to mention the real estate that made up a significant part of the Cardin empire with its fifty or so often very prestigious addresses: 1,400 square meters on Rue Royale, 1,500 square meters of the headquarters in front of the Elysée Palace, his village in Lacoste, his palace in Venice, its castles near Avignon, Lioux, Gordes, Bonnieux, Goult and of course the Palais Bulle. It was up for sale from 2016 for the astronomical sum of 350 million euros without finding a buyer. In its annual ranking in 2018, Forbes determined the couturier's personal wealth at 600 million euros. So a billion, isn't it?
When a strand has so many strands it is very difficult to untie the knots. That will be the job of Rodrigo Basilicati, who leads the key structures of the Cardin Empire. If he doesn't sell, the forty-year-old esthete, engineer and Venetian pianist can still do what his uncle did, who considered himself self-sufficient as the “owner of everything”, that is, drink wine, go to the theater, eat in a restaurant, in a hotel sleep, cuddle up in sheets, dress and perfume - all with the Cardin signature.
This translated post previously appeared on FashionUnited.fr.
Photo: Hervé Dewintre.
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