After seven decades in the fashion industry, Pierre Cardin will have you know that he’s in no rush to get out. His eponymous label has been for sale for a quarter of a century, though don’t bother haggling over the price: the fashion designer who pioneered brand licensing won’t entertain offers below 1 billion euros ($1.04 billion).
“If you don’t have the money, then don’t buy it – nobody’s forcing you to,” the 94-year-old said in an interview at his cluttered Paris office opposite the Elysee presidential palace. “I can afford to die without selling it.”
Cardin, the first designer to license his name for products ranging from mattresses to frying pans, first floated the idea of a sale in the late eighties. Over the years, he’s periodically revived the possibility -- most recently at a fashion show in Paris this month celebrating the 70th anniversary of his design career. Yet with earnings declining, the luxury industry generally struggling and the number of Cardin licenses less than half what they were at their high point two decades ago, the attractions aren’t what they once were.
“One billion euros for the Pierre Cardin brand seems rich at first sight,” said Luca Solca, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas. Such a valuation for a licensing business would be at the higher end of the luxury sector, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Deborah Aitken.
Net income at Societe de Gestion Pierre Cardin, the arm which gathers the designer’s license revenue, fell 13 percent to 3.3 million euros in 2015, according to Societe.com, a French clearinghouse of company information. Revenue was 32.5 million euros, it said. The number of Cardin licenses active worldwide is down to 350 from about 800 in the 1990s.
Cardin, a self-made millionaire, declined to provide figures or to comment on market estimates. He said he recently received a 2.5 billion-euro offer for his Maxim’s restaurant empire, though was in no hurry to seal a deal. In 1981, Cardin bought the historic Paris restaurant that in its heyday attracted Aristotle Onassis and Rita Hayworth, and set about expanding the brand worldwide.
“It’s like a child you raised that wants to escape. I have never needed money, you understand. I have always lived on my own dime,” said the designer, who trained as an accountant with the Red Cross during World War II and still signs every check himself. Cardin lives a stone’s throw from his office, where he arrives in the late morning most days and works alongside shelves lined with copies of the various books published about him.
Even at 94, Cardin travels fairly regularly despite suffering from back pain, and decamps to his chateau in southern France most weekends. He still stages fashion shows, although not during the official fashion calendar, including one in July at the Lacoste chateau, which was once owned by the Marquis de Sade.
The Italian-born designer started his label in 1953 after stints at Paquin and Christian Dior and was the first couturier to offer ready-to-wear creations, heralding the advent of democratic fashion. Among his inventions are the bubble dress and the collarless men’s suit style popularized by the Beatles, and he also pioneered the “Space Age” look in the 1960s alongside Andre Courreges and Paco Rabanne.
His Paris flagship store sells Sixties-style A-line dresses costing as much as 2,800 euros, and his perfumes, including Innovation and Legend, are made by Five Star Fragrance of the U.S., which also produces scents for Donald Trump and rapper Jay Z.
Cardin is ranked 166th on the annual rich list published by French magazine Challenges, with an estimated fortune of 400 million euros, though he wouldn’t comment on how much he’s worth. “It’s much more than people say and much less than they think,” he said.
The youngest of 11 children, the designer has no shortage of surviving relatives. His great-nephew, Rodrigo Basilicati, is listed as an administrator of his holding company Pierre Cardin Evolution, though Cardin declined to say if Basilicati was his designated heir.
In addition to his fashion and restaurant businesses, Cardin has a portfolio of properties including the French chateau and Casanova’s palazzo in Venice. Another of his assets is the futuristic Palais Bulles -- the “Bubble Palace,” a collection of terracotta-colored domes that includes a 500-seat amphitheater -- on a hillside near Cannes. That’s currently on the market for 300 million euros, he said. Again, bargaining is not an option.
“I don’t need to sell it,” Cardin said, leafing through photographs that showed him alongside luminaries from Fidel Castro to Nelson Mandela. “I’m not tempted by money -- me, it’s all about success.”