Pierre Alexandre Claudius Balmain
May 18, 1914
|Died||29 June 1982 (aged 68)|
|Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, 1955; Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur, 1962; knight of the Order of the Dannebrog, 1963; Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design winner and Tony Award for Best Costume Design nominee, 1980|
Pierre Alexandre Claudius Balmain (French pronunciation: [pjɛʁ balmɛ̃], b. Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, Savoie, 18 May 1914 – Paris, France, 29 June 1982) was a French fashion designer and founder of leading post-war fashion house Balmain. Known for sophistication and elegance, he described the art of dressmaking as "the architecture of movement."
Early life and career
Balmain's father, who died when the future designer was seven years old, was the owner of a wholesale drapery business. His mother Françoise ran a fashion boutique called Galeries Parisiennes with her sisters. He went to school at Chambéry and, during weekends with his uncle in the spa town of Aix-les-Bains, his interest in couture fashion was inspired by society women he met.
Balmain began studying architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1933, also undertaking freelance work drawing for the designer Robert Piguet. After visiting the studio of Edward Molyneux in 1934, he was offered a job, leaving his studies and working for the designer for the succeeding five years. He joined Lucien Lelong during World War II – where he met the young designer Christian Dior.
Pierre Balmain died at the age of 68 of liver cancer at the American Hospital of Paris, having just completed the sketches for his fall collection.
His companion was the Danish designer Erik Mortensen, who worked as a designer at Balmain from 1948 until 1991. Margit Brandt worked as a young designer with Pierre Balmain in the early 1960s. Balmain also spotted the talent of Karl Lagerfeld, hiring him in 1954 after judging a fashion competition that the young German designer won.
Fashion house of Balmain
The fashion house of Balmain opened in 1945. Initially it showcased long bell-shaped skirts with small waists – a post-war style that was popularised in 1947 as Dior's New Look. The first collection was showcased in Vogue in the November issue and the reviewer's reaction was that Balmain delivered: "beautiful clothes that you really want to wear". A positive write-up in the magazine from Balmain's friend Gertrude Stein helped to seal the designer's success – early celebrity fans included the Duchess of Windsor who ordered from the collection.
Balmain was active in promoting himself internationally from the early days – touring Australia in 1947 and designing a line to be produced in the country. He expanded operations to the United States in 1951, selling ready-to-wear clothes that earned him a prestigious Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in 1955. He was, by this stage, designing clothes worn by Vojislav Stanimirovic and stars, such as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn.
Such was Balmain's reputation that he was chosen to design the wardrobe of Queen Sirikit of Thailand during her 1960 tour of the United States. In 1968, he created outfits for the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble and he also designed outfits for both TWA and Malaysia–Singapore Airlines' (later Singapore Airlines) cabin crew in the 1960s and '70s. Air France's first female pilot in 1975 wore a uniform by Balmain
Erik Mortensen, a student of the Danish designer Holger Blum, began as a design assistant at Balmain in 1948. He and Balmain worked well together, and Mortensen quickly went from assistant to collaborator. He and Balmain worked together for the rest of Balmain's life. Margit Brandt worked as a young designer with Pierre Balmain in the early 1960s. Balmain also spotted the talent of Karl Lagerfeld, hiring him in 1954 after judging a fashion competition that the young German designer won.
Balmain was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Costume Design and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design for Happy New Year (1980). Additional Broadway theatre credits include costumes for Sophia Loren in The Millionairess (1960) and Josephine Baker for her eponymous 1964 revue. He also was a costume designer for 16 films, including the Brigitte Bardot vehicle And God Created Woman and La Parisienne, and designed on-screen wardrobes for the actresses Vivien Leigh and Mae West. He made a lot of dresses for Dalida.
Balmain also created perfumes, including Vent Vert (1947), his first successful scent and one of the best-selling perfumes of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Other scents included Jolie Madame (1953), Ivoire (1979), and Eau d'Amazonie (2006).
In popular culture
The fashion house was referred to in the 1960 poster for The Millionairess, which promoted the film as: "The sultry story of the beautiful babe in the Balmain gown who pants for romance". Peter Sarstedt's 1969 hit single Where Do You Go To (My Lovely) contains the line: "Your clothes are all made by Balmain".
Balmain, Pierre, My Years and Seasons, Cassell, London 1964
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- House of Balmain
- Vintage designs and adverts by Pierre Balmain
- Pierre Balmain at FMD
- Pierre Balmain at the Internet Broadway Database
- "Pierre Balmain - Dress & Petticoat". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2007-11-13.
- "Interactive timeline of couture houses and couturier biographies". Victoria and Albert Museum.