Monday, April 12, 2010

Pierre Balmain

In my Fashion Intro class, we had an assignment to write about a notable designer. I got an A on my paper, so I thought I'd share :

“Keep the basic principles of fashion and you will always be in harmony with the latest trends without falling prey to them,” French fashion designer Pierre Balmain once said ( Balmain’s simple and elegant taste and designs were what set him a step above the rest in the world of fashion at his time. He was born in 1914 in St. Jean de Maurienne, Savoie. His father, who died when he was 7, owned a wholesale drapery business, while his mother, Francoise, and aunts ran a fashion boutique.

Balmain went to school at the Ecole des Beaux Arts for architecture, but did not finish his degree. Instead he left his studies to work for one of the most famed fashion designers of the time, Edward Molyneux, for whom he worked for from 1934 until 1939. After World War II, Balmain went to work for another legendary designer, Lucien Lelong. Then, in 1945, Balmain opened his own fashion house. In 1947 he launched his first fragrance, and in 1951 he opened branches in the United States to sell his ready-to-wear fashions. Throughout his career, Balmain also designed costumes for the stage as well as sixteen films. He also designed the personal wardrobes for many of the stars he costumed, including Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, and Katherine Hepburn. He was even chosen by Queen Sirikit of Thailand to be her personal couturier.

After World War II, Balmain was the first to feature the same bell-shaped skirts that became a part of Christian Dior’s “New Look”, but it was in the 1950’s that Balmain had the most influence on women’s fashion. He made the stole popular for daywear as well as evening wear and popularized sheath dresses beneath jackets. He was best known for the way he could create simple tailored suits as well as extravagant evening gowns, all with the same beautiful slender lines. He designed mostly slim silhouettes for day and full skirted silhouettes for evening. He used beautiful embroidered fabrics without going overboard or being gaudy. Balmain’s designs were known simply for their elegance.

Balmain also has a few accolades to his name. He was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Costume Design and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design for Happy New Year in 1980. He also mentored a few designers who went on to become just as influential as he was, including Gerard Pipart who worked for him in 1948, John Cavanaugh from 1947 to 1951, and Karl Lagerfeld from 1955 to 1958. In 1964, Balmain wrote his autobiography, entitled “My Years and Seasons”. Unfortunately, it is no longer in print and fairly difficult to find.

Following his death in Paris, France on June 29, 1982, his longtime assistant, Erik Mortensen continued to uphold the standards and traditions of the fashion house, while updating and creating new designs in the spirit of the house’s founder. He won France’s Haute Couture Golden Thimble Award for his Autumn/Winter 1983-1984 collection, and again for his Autumn/Winter 1987-1988 collection. In 1993, after being bought and sold a few times, the Balmain house appointed a new head designer, Oscar de la Renta. Although the fashion house is very different from when it began over half a century ago, de la Renta continues to design fashions that are just as elegant and timeless as was meant by the legacy left by Pierre Balmain many years ago.

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.

“History and Background of Pierre Balmain”. 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2010.

“Pierre Balmain Biography”. 18 Jan. 2007. Web. 25 Feb. 2010.

(All images from

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