In her latest book “Madame Cardin. A la cour du dernier empereur de la mode”, Sylvana Lorenz tells the story of her life with Pierre Cardin for more than thirty years. The fashion designer died on 29 December 2020, at the age of 98. The curtain has fallen, the performance is over. He was the man she loved and who did not marry her. Her confidences during my visit to her Parisian home.
Smiling, Sylvana Lorenz, in a red and black suit signed Pierre Cardin, opens the door of her flat on Avenue Niel, in the 17th arrondissement of Paris.
It’s not a surprise, she had warned me: her world is a replica of the first floor rooms of the famous Maxim’s restaurant. Pierre Cardin ordered the work there with his own artists. It is as if the late designer wanted to leave his mark forever on the life of the woman who devoted her boundless love to him.
On the wall, the turquoise or celadon green paintings, with Maxim’s painted in golden letters, create a nostalgic atmosphere. Another era, La Belle Epoque. One feels “almost” in a museum: furniture, tableware with Sem’s drawings, household linen are all signed with the name of the man with 800 licences. Portraits of Cardin signed by Gérard Le Cloarec and Dimitri Parant immortalise the deceased. Behind the piano, a black and white photo of Françoise Sagan with Jacques Chazot and Annabel Buffet catches my eye.
The artist Patrice Breteau has stylised the corridors of the flat with murals identical to those in the Palais Bulles. Sylvana lends herself to the game of posing in front of a painting by Pal Sarkozy, Nicolas Sarkozy’s father, who exhibited at the Espace Cardin in 2010. Fully committed to her mission as Pierre Cardin’s biographer, the hostess answers my questions.
Why is this book called “Madame Cardin” ? Isn’t it a bit provocative when you are not related to Monsieur Cardin ?
It was the jealous colleagues at Cardin who mocked me and ironically nicknamed me “Madame Cardin”. Some employees were ready to kill each other for a look from their master. He was a magnetic man. It was hard to resist him. He put me on a satellite and I revolved around him like a small planet around a star. I was in love with him, I would have liked him to marry me, to give me a child. Of course, he was homosexual, but it wasn’t a completely crazy dream.
In the film House of Cardin, we see him dedicate a book to me: “For Sylvana, the love of my life”. Today, I feel like a widow, Pierre Cardin’s widow after more than thirty years at his side. This book is published after his death, I can allow myself to talk about my love story, which I did not do in the first biography of him in 2006. Out of discretion for him and his family.
By what combination of circumstances did you meet Pierre Cardin ?
Do you believe in destiny ? In fact, my destiny was linked to Pierre Cardin from the age of 9. My mother wasn’t very interested in me and I suffered for it. One day I saw her leafing through a magazine and looking at a photo of Pierre Cardin and his fiancée Jeanne Moreau. To make myself interesting, I told her, “One day, when I grow up, I’ll go to Paris and marry him! I made an emotional transfer, especially as my father didn’t see me, didn’t hear me, didn’t speak to me. Time passed, I had forgotten my oath.
A man in his sixties walked into my art gallery in the Hotel Bristol one afternoon in 1983. He said to me, “I would like to buy that little bronze hand in the window, but I don’t have any money on me. Could you deliver it to me across the street, at 59 Faubourg Saint-Honoré. I am Pierre Cardin.” It was the hand of fate! I didn’t recognise him at first. He had an imposing build, white hair and glasses.
How did you create a lasting bond with him ?
A few months after I delivered the little hand, the management of the Bristol informed me that my lease would not be renewed. Pierre Cardin, nicknamed the King of the Faubourg by the local shopkeepers, owned several premises including a small gallery on Avenue Matignon.
I managed to get an appointment even though he was not selling. When he refused, I said: “It’s just that… if I left the district, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see you again.” Unsettled, he invited me to lunch at the Espace Cardin, which was to become my kingdom. He was a cancer, an artist, he had antennae.
“I was spending a timeless moment with a god who had descended from Olympus.”
Your dominant character trait is audacity ?
Definitely ! I’m a bold person, I’m not afraid of anything. Without my nerve, I wouldn’t have had the same life. During that lunch, I confessed to him that I had been in love with him since I was nine years old. His fork stayed in the air for a few seconds! And he lowered the price of the gallery to 900,000 francs. I didn’t have it, but I accepted on the spot. I was spending a timeless moment with a god who had descended from Olympus. And fortunately I found a partner, a rich heiress.
Is that how you began to enter his intimacy ?
Pierre Cardin didn’t close the little door between my gallery, where I exhibited Ben, Arman, César and all those I had known in Nice, and his private hotel in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. So I could slip into his life. He went to bed at 2 o’clock, was at his office at 5.30. At 8 o’clock, he was at work. At 8 o’clock he was in the studio. At 10 o’clock, there is an impressive queue in front of his office, it’s who would see the master first. He could dine at Maxim’s or eat anything in a boui-boui without getting sick. A force of nature!
We saw each other frequently and he started to confide in us. He was a great seducer, he made me fall over when he looked at me, his hands when he dressed me… He always had an ambiguous attitude towards me, measuring out the intensity like a perfect alchemist of feelings. He was a man who loved men, but also women. He would have liked to have a wife, children… He was born in 1922 and lived his homosexuality like a curse, because at the time, pederasts were put in prison. Three of his lovers died of AIDS. Nobody knows everything I have told in this book. I am the recipient and sole heir of her memoirs. You can write it in letters of fire!
For about ten years, you have been away from Pierre Cardin. And you earned your stripes as a talent scout in the field of contemporary art.
Against my will, I left Avenue Matignon. Peter, Pierre Cardin’s lover, who was ill with AIDS, had asked him to close the door of communication that existed between us.
On September 12, 1987, I inaugurated my new gallery, at 13 rue Chapon, in the Marais, with an exhibition of John Armleder, surrounded by his friends from the Neo-Geo group, Olivier Mosset, Gerwald Rockenschaub and Allen McCollum. Many artists have exhibited for the first time in my gallery, such as the German Martin Kippenberger, Erwin Wurm, Heimo Zobernig, Steven Parrino, Mark Dion. My artists were picked up by big dealers, notably Thaddaeus Ropac, Max Hetzler, Fabienne Leclerc.
At the time, nobody knew them. Today, their works are worth millions of euros. I invested all the money I earned as an expert with Maître Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr. But after 10 years, I went broke and threw in the towel.
“My entry into L’Espace Cardin marked my induction into Pierre Cardin’s court.”
Pierre Cardin then definitively satellised you by offering you the gallery on Rue du Cirque, then L’Espace Cardin ?
I was 43 years old and I thought that my destiny as a priestess of contemporary art ended there. But then I ran into Pierre Cardin at the opening cocktail party of Maxim’s, on October 21, 1997. I re-established the connection in a flash: “Good evening, Mr. Cardin, would you have a gallery to give me ?” He replied: “Make an appointment with my assistant”.
He couldn’t see me, but had briefed the HR director. He entrusted me with his gallery in the Rue du Cirque, then L’Espace Cardin, because it was becoming too small. My entry into L’Espace Cardin marked my induction into Pierre Cardin’s court. It was Louis XIV in Versailles. He behaved like a monarch, he liked to play the game.
What exactly was your role, in charge of artistic choices and public relations ?
I was the linchpin of L’Espace Cardin, which had been humming along since 1970. Marlene Dietrich, of whom Pierre Cardin was a great admirer, played in his theatre. She treated him very badly, capricious, perpetually dissatisfied. Cyrielle Clair took over the life of Marlene Dietrich at her request.
For the exhibitions, I relied on sure values: Robert Combas, Fred Forest, Miguel Chevalier, Werner Hornung… I made sure that all the events were a success. The evening went on until late at night. At 6 p.m. opening, 8.30 p.m. theatre performance, 11 p.m. dinner at Maxim’s. I played the hostess in a cocktail dress, navigating among the crowned heads and stars like Jean-Claude Brialy, Alain Delon, Michel Legrand
What was important to me was to put Pierre Cardin in the spotlight, to be his publicity agent, so to speak. I organised sumptuous parties in his Palazzo Bragadin during the Venice Biennale, at the Palais Bulles in Théoule, at the Château de Lacoste in the Luberon. I took part in People TV shows where I appeared, of course, always dressed in Pierre Cardin. Sometimes my comments caused a scandal, but he laughed about them.
In this book, you retrace the itinerary of this young Italian emigrant, who made his debut in Paris, without family or money.
He met Jean Cocteau when he made the costumes for the film Beauty and the Beast for Jean Marais. Then he worked with Christian Dior, and in 1953 presented his first collection with the bubble dress that was a hit. He made a fortune with his futuristic collections, his spectacular fashion shows and his licenses that were distributed throughout the world.
Pierre Cardin was a great democrat. He wanted to dress the concierge as well as the woman of the world. He launched ready-to-wear, and the other couturiers denigrated him. Everyone followed him later. I am the second woman to have put him in the spotlight. He came out of the oblivion where he had fallen since the end of his love story with Jeanne Moreau.
He loved money to the point of dreaming at night that he could get rich by selling a button to a billion Chinese. With his 800 licences and factories in more than 110 countries, he built an empire. But he remained a free man until his death. Today, Rodrigo Basilicati-Cardin, his great nephew, is the company’s chairman. He turned 50 the day his great-uncle died. A sign? He is not his direct heir, but Pierre Cardin chose him among all his descendants. Pierre Cardin’s inheritance concerns about twenty nephews. It’s quite complicated…
“I am the priestess of the Pierre Cardin cult.”
Do you regret not being included in his will ?
Of course I regret it. I would have loved to take care of his business! And I think I would have excelled at developing them. But, in his own way, he warned me.
On my birthday, February 14, 2012, Valentine’s Day, Pierre Cardin gave me The Silkworm Tale, with a little chuckle. He had written it in 1992 on the occasion of his admission to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, of which he was very proud. At the time, I didn’t understand the message of this initiatory text. What he wanted was for me to love him selflessly. One day he asked me, “But would you love me if I were not Pierre Cardin ?” I replied: “Of course not. It’s Pierre Cardin that I love !” And he left with a big laugh, because he was not expecting such a frank answer.
Pierre Cardin left me his memoirs. It is the most beautiful heritage there is. To me alone, this secret man told his life story in bits and pieces during the three decades I spent at his side. In this book, I unwind the precious thread of memories of the man who was my lord.
Do you have any current projects ?
I am the priestess of the Pierre Cardin cult. To pay tribute to him, I would like the story I tell in this book to be transposed to the cinema. I am in contact with two producers I know well, with whom I have already worked, who are interested in the idea of a film. His life has already been chronicled in the documentary House of Cardin. In this film, I would like to talk about my life. Me and Pierre Cardin.
Some key dates : Sylvana Lorenz from her birth to Pierre Cardin’s latest biography
14 February 1953 : born in Tunis.
1965 : Arrival in Nice with her parents.
13 August 1970 : marriage to Günther Lorenz.
1972 : arrival in Paris.
1975 : birth of their daughter Amandine.
1976 : Graduates from the University of Paris X Nanterre with a degree in teaching.
1981 : First contemporary art gallery, Sylvana Lorenz, located in the Hôtel Bristol, 112 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, in Paris.
1985 : Contemporary art gallery, Sylvana Lorenz, located at 29 avenue Matignon, in Paris.
1986 to 1996 : Contemporary art gallery, Sylvana Lorenz, at 13 rue Chapon, in Le Marais, Paris.
1986 to 1996 : Expert in contemporary art at the Cornette de Saint Cyr law firm.
1997 à 2018 : Professor of contemporary art at the Institut d’Études Supérieures des Arts (IESA).
1991 : ” L’ingénue Galeriste “, Antoine Candau editions
1994 and 1995 : Art columnist in Christophe Dechavanne’s show: “Coucou, c’est nous”, on TF1.
1995 and 1996 : Art performance columnist for the programme “Paris Dernière” on the M6 channel Paris Première.
1997 to 2015 : Head of communications at the Espace Cardin.
1997 : Art columnist in Laurent Fontaine’s programme ” Le meilleur du pire “, on Canal Jimmy, a subsidiary of the Canal+ group.
2000 to 2002 : Art columnist in the programme ” Jet Set ” on M6 for Productions Tony Comiti.
2002 to 2004 : Art columnist in the programme “J’y étais”, hosted by Frédéric Lopez on Match TV.
2003 : “A nous deux Paris”, Éditions Flammarion.
2006 : “Pierre Cardin: Son fabuleux destin”, Éditions Calmann-Lévy.
2021 : “Madame Cardin. A la cour du dernier empereur de la mode”, Éditions l’Archipel.
Read also > DEATH OF A FASHION GENIUS : PIERRE CARDIN
Featured photo : © Press
[EN] After working as an investment banker at Crédit Lyonnais, Corine Moriou turned to journalism at the L'Express group. The job she dreamed of at 18! As a reporter for L'Entreprise/L'Express for 15 years, she conducted interviews in the four corners of the world. 70 countries visited, 5,000 people interviewed, 10,000 smiles and laughs shared, 100 pairs of shoes worn. Today, she works as a freelancer. Her favorite subjects are culture, lifestyle, well-being and travel. Each encounter is a journey. Never blasé, always ready! ************** [FR] Après avoir été banquière d'affaires au Crédit Lyonnais, Corine Moriou a obliqué vers le métier de journaliste au sein du groupe L'Express. Le métier dont elle rêvait à 18 ans ! Grand Reporter pour L’Entreprise/L’Express pendant 15 ans, elle a fait des interviews aux quatre coins du monde. 70 pays visités, 5 000 personnes interviewées, 10 000 sourires et rires partagés, 100 paires de chaussures usées. Aujourd’hui, elle exerce son métier en free lance. Ses sujets de prédilection sont la culture, l’art de vivre, le bien-être, les voyages. Chaque rencontre est un voyage. Jamais blasée, toujours prête!