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Since 1st March, 1999
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Father of fashion blows haute
- Pierre Cardin sees too much commerce and nudity destroying couture

Paris, Jan. 14: Modern clothes are unwearable and the fashion industry has been disfigured by big business and nudity. After 65 years in the world of fashion, that is the final verdict of legendary designer Pierre Cardin.

Maybe in Paris, but not in Delhi. At least that's what Indian designer Ritu Kumar believes. She would find young colleague Sabyasachi Mukherjee not agreeing. The Calcuttan, it appears, thinks like Cardin.

And Raghavendra Rathore, speaking from Delhi, asks the French fashion icon ' didn't you start it all'

Looking back at his dramatic career from his offices overlooking the French presidential palace, Cardin said true haute couture, the French phrase for the most exclusive work produced by a big fashion house, had vanished.

Haute couture outfits are sewn by hand and to the specific measurements of the client, ensuring something unique, the exact opposite of mass-produced ready-to-wear.

'You no longer have the construction of a real silhouette. Before you had Balenciaga, Chanel, Courreges, Cardin... Of these names, yes Dior still exists, but it's spectacle. It's superb, but it's a spectacle,' said 82-year-old Cardin, now considering offers for his $1.32-billion empire, which he recently put up for sale.

'You can't walk in shoes like that or hats like that ' to go where' You go to dinner and you need three chairs to sit down,' said Cardin, who joined the Dior atelier in 1946 and shot to fame with his 'bubble dress' in 1954.

'Intelligent women work nowadays, they drive cars, and the cars are smaller and smaller, while the dresses at Dior are bigger and bigger. It's very beautiful, but it's not fashion ' it's something else. It's costume,' said Cardin.

But the man who has kept one step ahead of the fashion world for most of his career ' bringing runway shows to department stores in 1959 and couture to communist China in 1975 ' was also the first to take fashion to the street with ready-to-wear. 'They said pret-a-porter will kill your name and it saved me,' he said.

That's exactly what Rathore wants to remind the grand old man of French fashion.

'I agree with Cardin's views on commercialisation of fashion, but I would like to remind him that he was the one who started it.'

'He took fashion to the streets, democratised it about 30 years back. Fashion followed that direction and has now ceased to be just for the high and elite. It's accessible to everyone now and we designers are all in the business of making commerce out of fashion. It's inevitable and it's the way the world is going.'

Cardin felt he was very lucky to be part of the post-war period 'when everything had to be redone'. 'Women wanted to party, to dance, to amuse themselves, there was a sexy side. But now nudity is everywhere, sex is everywhere,' he said.

'We undress men and women, we don't dress them any more.'

Sabyasachi Mukherjee couldn't agree more. 'That's the curse of commercialisation. In an attempt to modernise and sexify fashion, it has been robbed of all romanticism and gentleness. Fashion today is very plastic. It's a global phenomenon and the Indian scene is no different.'

A real couture house needed a true creator behind it, claimed Cardin. 'We have completely disfigured this profession that was once very creative.'

Designer Ritu Kumar, however, put the Indian context in perspective. 'Indian fashion is now where Gucci, Chanel and Cardin were in their initial days. Fashion houses in our country are still owned by individual designers and not multinationals, like in the West. That's when commercialisation comes in and ruins fashion. That's what has happened to a large extent in Europe, but I hope we continue to be this way,' she said from Delhi.

Master of a realm that spans everything from men's suits to the Maxim's restaurant, Cardin said it is now nearly impossible for a young couturier to make a mark.

'When I began in 1945 there were about 20 creators round the world. Today there are hundreds, everywhere' But there is practically no more fashion,' said Cardin.

'If I were 20, I wouldn't know what to do because practically everything has been done.'

But after 40 years in the field, Ritu Kumar believes Indian fashion is still fairly innovative. 'India is probably the only country in the world that still has a definitive fashion handwriting. That's because our fashion is based on our textile and craft heritage. Unlike in the West, we make clothes for real people with reasonable bodies.'

Reuters and Our Calcutta Bureau

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