Glass meets filmmakers P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes to talk about House of Cardin – their latest project

THE PROWESS  of the documentary filmmakers, P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes truly radiates in their most recent venture, House of Cardin. Their dream undertaking began when the filmmakers happened to meet face to face in Paris with the “mythic man,” or as they thought at first – Pierre Cardin.  The couple had been collecting Cardin’s pieces for the past six years including their “circular coffee table that started it all” which they paired with their “Barbarbella, Space-Age” circular silver couch in their Palm Springs home.

These filmmakers, whose last film was Mansfield 66/67, gracefully slipped into place when Cardin himself asked them to create this documentary that was released in theaters earlier last month. House of Cardin effortlessly answers the question Who is Pierre Cardin or those who are unfamiliar with the work of the fashion designer and furniture maker.

But, the filmmakers refuse to reduce his name merely down to a label or his tangible pieces of work. Cardin was much more than that. 

While speaking to Glass about the making of the film, they were astounded by the work of their producer Cori Coppola, also their French translator who helped “get Philippe Starck in the room, to follow up on Naomi Campbell’s team, to make the movie happen.” The film features talent such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Phillipe Starck, Sharon Stone, Naomi Campbell and Dionne Warwick, and includes stories from journalist Laurence Benaïm, confidant Jeanne Moreau, and fascinating Japanese collectors who “have been collecting [Cardin] since the beginning”.

P. David Ebersole & Todd Hughes P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes

How did you come up with the idea of creating a documentary about Pierre Cardin and how did you view both fashion and Cardin as an individual before making this?
Hughes: With this particular documentary, it was unlike anything we have done before, because we didn’t set out to make a documentary. [We] discovered he had a record label, Les Disques Pierre Cardin, [and] as fate would have it, we were in Paris looking for the records. [We] stumbled upon the Pierre Cardin museum, and found out he was a real person. When we met him, we were so enchanted with him, and he knew that we were documentary filmmakers, and kind of said to us, “let’s go, let’s do something.” So that’s how this all got started. 

Why was it important to you to portray Cardin’s work and life through this medium as opposed to a narrative feature which you also have experience in?
Hughes: We didn’t know a lot about Pierre Cardin when we started, and what we uncovered was such an unbelievable human story, spanning the twentieth century, right? The World War II and the Great French Era of the Couturier and also this man who grew up  in a time when it was not normal to be gay in French culture. So it was not talked about and yet he also had a very high profile affair with a very glamourous movie star. So since the documentary, we have been thinking about that narrative story of Pierre Cardin’s journey and the love triangle between him and Jeanne Moreau and André Oliver.

Ebersole: [We] hope that the film is this sort of slow unveiling of getting to know him. We felt like Pierre Cardin answers them just by being, when you ask that question, “who is Pierre Cardin?” He is not the kind of person, when you sit down with him, and ask him a very pointed question like, “was that devastating for you when you lost André Oliver?” He won’t sit there and wring his hands, and cry in front of the camera and tell you his feelings. But when he does a very simple answer like, saying, “he left us and with many regrets,” he’s saying a whole world of information in that one sentence.

Your documentary features several notable individuals such as Naomi Campbell and Dionne Warwick. What was it like to listen to Cardin’s story through them?

Hughes: With Dionne Warwick, first of all, it was impossible to believe that we were talking to Dionne Warwick. That in and of itself was a surreal experience. It was so funny, because you were talking to this legend herself, and we just started talking about [Cardin] like he’s an old friend, we all picked up on the same thing.

Ebersole: We’re looking at him from all these different angles, and then these people come in, and they have their own unique experiences, their own unique moments with him. So we were really looking for those kinds of people that could tell those kinds of stories.

Hughes: Ironically, the only person who’s never met Pierre Cardin that appears in the film is Naomi Campbell. She’s the only celebrity that wears vintage Cardin on the red carpet, which is why we sought her, and then we found out that Cardin diversified the runway and thought, “oh well she’s perfect,” of course she spoke about that in the film.

In the documentary, Mr. Tony Glenville said, “[Cardin] has a certain warmth as a person, which we may or may not always see in this public persona.” What was one aspect that surprised you about him?

Hughes: Well, that is such a true statement, because when you see it, that’s all you see afterwards. Because he is very very kind, gracious, and I always say, to me it’s the sign of a genius. He just knows, common sense, inside and out. He treats everyone with the same respect.

Ebersole: He’s also very funny, which is one of the surprises for us. I don’t know why you would think that somebody who is so accomplished is going to be dry or distant from you, but he really looks for the smile in the room, so he’s a very funny person.

Hughes: And not sophisticated humour, goofiness. Just silliness, completely, nuttiness.

House of Cardin, film still

Were you able to screen the film for Mr. Cardin? If so, what was his response?
Ebersole: We gave him what’s called “meaningful consultation” and we have the final cut on the movie so it meant that when we were at a strong rough cut, we showed him so we made sure that he didn’t have anything to say where we were wrong [about] facts, details, or his trajectory. We got word back from Paris that he loved the movie, and that everything was true, and that was sort of an unfinished version of it.

Hughes: He appreciated that it was 97 minutes long, which was how old he was at the time.

Ebersole: So we took that as our seal of approval, ran with it, and he then finally saw the full presentation at the premiere in Venice, along with the rest of the audience. So he walked into the room, and got a standing ovation. Then the film played, and he got a second standing ovation, at the end of the film. He stood up in front of the audience and, what’s the exact phrase that he said Todd?

Hughes: He said it was “artistic, thoughtful, and all true.”

Ebersole: And so we just, you know…

Hughes: Accepted our academy award.

Ebersole: It was like winning the academy award for us. We were like, “that’s it, we’re happy, we’re done.”

House of Cardin, poster

What has been the highpoint of your career so far?
Hughes: I would have to say the Venice Film Festival, the premiere, that was pretty spectacular. Something, you know, you dream about your whole life, and then you’re there with one of the biggest icons in the world, and that was pretty, yeah.

Ebersole : This film is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of our career. But we had a day, where we shot our interview with Sharon Stone, in Los Angeles. It was the only day that she was available, and in order to make it on time, to the fashion show on the Great Wall of China, we had to literally run to the airport, from her interview, fly to China, get into a van, change our clothes in the van, hike up to the top of the Great Wall of China, where the fashion show was in process.

Our crew was already there, with cameras flying around everywhere. There were two seats right in front of this Pierre Cardin fashion show on the Great Wall of China, saved for Todd and P. David. We sit down, we watch this thing, just take action, and you have to pinch yourself to say “who are we and how did we get here?”

What advice do you have for future filmmakers?
Hughes: All I can say is do it. You know at this point in time we all have cameras, we all have a way to get it out there to do it, because what are you waiting for? 

Ebersole: Access is really key. [What] we have found doing documentary films, has been you can get going, and do it yourself or, go to the level of hiring cinematographers and putting things together at that leve. But the most important thing is the material and the access and the minute you have somebody like Pierre Cardin say “yes I would let you do this,” you go and run with it.

Hughes: As Debbie Allen once told us, just say yes. And we do.

by Chandana Kamaraj

Check out the trailer for House of Cardin below: