ANDRE OLIVER joined Pierre Cardin's fashion house in 1951 and became Cardin's right-hand man, friend and fellow creator. The company had been in existence for just one year but Cardin had already made his mark and was being heralded as the new young star of Paris high fashion. Under his energetic, far-sighted yet often iconoclastic direction, and aided by Oliver, the enterprise expanded and diversified to become the multi-million pound empire that it is today.
Having worked closely with Andre Oliver during preparations for the retrospective exhibition of 40 years of Cardin's haute couture at the V & A in 1991, I was spellbound by his perceptive analysis of the fashion sphere and its wider ramifications. He acknowledged that fashion is a hard task-master but was totally dedicated to its demands. As we walked around the exhibition together, he brought the clothes alive, remembering every minute detail from concept to the finished garment and even pinpointed which mannequin had originally worn each exhibit.
We travelled from the elegant bubble dresses and cocoon coats of the 1950s and the headline-making space-age ensembles of the 1960s to the power suits of the 1980s and powerfully tailored 1990s statements. Oliver's particular forte was evening wear and he composed magnificent gowns in luxurious fabrics often replete with cascades of ruffles.
As Artistic Director, this debonair and charming man had an onerous and crucial role in leading Cardin's fiercely loyal, close-knit and sometimes volatile design team. They shared a vision and Cardin had complete trust in Oliver's joint handling of the haute couture activities which are central to his vast product licensing network. The rarefied and elitist couture studios and workrooms in the Faubourg Saint-Honore and Hotel de Clermont-Tonnerre serve as laboratories for ideas which percolate through the entire gamut of merchandise bearing the Cardin label.
Apart from a short solo period in the United States designing menswear under his own name, Oliver remained a senior figure in the Cardin organisation for 42 years. Both men were fanatically hard workers, and collaborated in the complex and often fraught process of generating thousands of designs, with the twice- yearly haute couture shows acting as creative pivots and their showpieces. At the end of these glamorous occasions, Cardin always took his bow on stage accompanied by Andre Oliver, thus acknowledging his important contributions to every collection.
It was a measure of his importance that Cardin insisted that Andre Oliver's portrait must feature full-page in front of the V & A's exhibition catalogue and added a personal caption thanking him for his part in the creation of all the fashions illustrated.