Not Just A Label – Pierre Balmain

Balmain 2 Balmain 1Pierre Alexandre Claudius Balmain was born in St Jean Maurienne, a small village near the French mountains, in 1914. His mother, Francoise, and her sisters ran a Boutique, alongside the family’s wholesale drapery business. His father died when Balmain was only 7, leaving him to be brought up by his mother and aunts in the Boutique where he spent most of his childhood playing with the fabrics and sketching while his aunts designed and created dresses and gowns.

In 1933 he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts to study architecture; he funded his studies by creating and selling dresses and working as a freelance designer for the couturier Robert Piguet. However, only a year into his tuition he left, after being offered work by Edward Molyneux. He stayed with Molyneux for four years, from 1934 to 1938, during the height of the label’s success. In 1936, Balmain’s career was interrupted when he was called to attend compulsory military service for the French air force and pioneer corps. Upon his return in 1940 he took a job at Lucien Lelong, where he worked during the German occupation of Paris. In 1945, following the declaration of peace, he opened his own fashion house. His very first collection featured long bell-shaped skirts with thin waists, a style that later became popularized as Dior’s ‘New Look’ as the classic post-war silhouette.

Balmain’s designs were glamorous and made with exquisite fabrics, a style many were quick to embrace following the hardships and rationings of the war. His shows were lavish and sophisticated, resurrecting the glamour of Parisian couture, following the war.  Soon the designer was taking his tours worldwide and by 1951 he had opened branches in the US, selling a new ready-to-wear line designed specifically for American’s wider frame, yet retaining both his personal style and the elegance of Parisian couture. He has been attributed with popularizing the ‘sheath dress’ a simple, tailored dress, typically worn under jackets, which falls at the knee or lower thigh. This design is a perfect example of Balmain’s exquisite talent for creating elegance and luxury while maintaining simple, classic lines.

Balmain was the designer of a jet setting generation and one of only a very select few designers who designed for royalty, theatre, film and ballet. He designed for a total of 16 films during the decade, dressing the likes of Vivien Leigh, Brigitte Bardot and Mae West.

The designer passed away in Paris in 1982, the label was first handed to his assistant, Erik Mortensen and has since been headed by Herve-Pierre, Oscar de la Renta and Laurent Mercier. The label has thrived on Pierre Balmain’s principles of simplicity, luxury and timeless elegance.  Balmain vintage remains sought after and chic, still dressing the world’s top models and movie stars.

Shop Pierre Balmain in our collection, Statement Velvet & Bejewelled 80s Two Piece