At 97, designer Cardin is still seeking 's next trendsetter

By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - At 97, French couturier Pierre Cardin, who helped give the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier their first big break, is not done trying to spot 's next superstar - teaming up for his latest venture with a designer seven decades his junior.

Cardin, known for shaking up styles in the 1960s with futuristic bubble- and other looks fit for a space odyssey, presented one of his latest protegees to the world on Thursday evening, a 27-year-old from a village in Provence.

Pierre Courtial, who makes all of his creations by hand, unveiled a collection at Cardin's studio on Paris's chic Rue Saint-Honore, with pieces that echoed some of the veteran designer's geometrical aesthetics.

Outfits included and coats in contrasting colours, with bright reds paired with pastel greens, and the young designer also presented futuristic-looking jewellery.

Cardin - who first learned the tricks of the trade with a then unknown Christian Dior before showcasing his first collection in 1953 - said he still rated originality above anything else.

"I've always tried to be different, to be myself," Cardin told Reuters. "Whether people like it or not, that's not what matters."

Cardin said that Gaultier, who started out as his apprentice at 18, had found success by putting his distinctive stamp on designs inspired by street culture, punk and the gay scene. Gaultier, now 67, bade farewell to the catwalk with his last show in January.

"Gaultier had a provocative personality," Cardin added.

SURVIVOR FROM GOLDEN AGE

The designer is still very much a hands-on mentor, according to Courtial, who started working with Cardin five years ago, after first studying mechanical engineering and then attending a school.

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"Cardin taught me everything, from how to sketch to the cut and sewing," Courtial said.

Following the death of Chanel's veteran creative chief Karl Lagerfeld last year, Cardin is one of the last surviving designers from the post-World War Two era that marked a golden age for high in France.

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Peers also included the late Yves Saint Laurent, another Dior apprentice.

Cardin revolutioned in other ways too. He was one of the first to show a keen business sense by exploiting brand licences - a strategy that was embraced by rivals too before many reversed the practise in recent year.

The Pierre Cardin name ended up on everything from cheap boxer shorts to bottled water.

Cardin has yet to stop producing his own sketches and one-off designs for high-flying customers, however.

"He has a loyal American clientele in particular," said Maryse Gaspard, a former model who works with Cardin. (Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Writing by Sarah White, Editing by Gareth Jones)

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