IT HAS BECOME THE LABEL IMMORTALISED BY ALL CELEBRITIES FROM ITS ARTISAN ROOTS TO TODAY. IT HAS A REPUTATION WITH ITS CELEBRITY CULT FOLLOWING, MAKING BALMAIN ONE OF THE MOST SOUGHT AFTER LABELS IN THE INDUSTRY.
Balmain is the label everyone’s talking about – anyone who’s anyone wears the brands exquisite collections. With its fierce rock n’ roll aesthetic combined with luxury, Balmain is modern, fun and feminine. In 2011, at the tender age of 25, Olivier Rousteing became the creative director of the label – transforming the brand to what it is known for today: emitting a tough, luxury-chic woman built for today’s edginess. From 1945 to today, Balmain has been worn by the biggest celebrities and legends of the time.
EXQUISITE AND ELEGANT BEGINNINGS
Owing his early training to the greatest designers of the time as an assistant to Parisian couturier Lucien Lelong and working alongside fellow greats Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Balmain opened his own Haute Couture house immediately following the war, in the autumn of 1945, on the Rue Francois 1er in Paris. Number 44 is the historic home where Pierre Balmain created his legacy. Once an aristocratic townhouse, the home was initially deemed unworkable for a fashion house: the twenty four strong team had sixteen seamstresses sharing a limited amount of stools. The fabric storeroom was set in the kitchen and the bathroom was used as Pierre Balmain’s studio – he fashioned a desk by resting a plank of wood across the bathtub. However, the eccentric Pierre Balmain loved something in the home and was determined to transform the space into Paris’ leading Haute Couture house.
Balmain’s first collection was extremely opulent: it showcased long voluminous skirts with a nipped in waist and richly embroidered ensembles – this iconic post war silhouette became known as Balmain’s ‘New Look’. After the war, clients clamoured for Balmain’s luxurious designs which celebrated decadence and boasted glamour.
Touring the world to give lectures on French fashion, Balmain was smart enough to recognise the potential of the US market and he owes his early success in the USA in his ability to translate French fashion into clothes for the American woman’s wider frames.
Towards the mid 1950’s, Balmain became the designer every Hollywood legend flocked to: he dressed the likes of Mae West, Vivienne Leigh and Ava Gardner – as well as royalty and was only one of the few couturiers to design for film, ballet and the theatre. His designs were sought after by all, garnering a celebrity following that still remains with the Balmain label today.
DESIGNER TO DESIGNER
Since Pierre Balmain’s death in 1982, the house had been taken over and guided by several different designers. However, Balmain’s glory days had dwindled by the late 1980s and the house was beginning to decline and was slowly forgotten. With the appointment of Oscar de la Renta in the mid 1990’s and Decarnin and Rousteing’s modern offerings, the Balmain house was reborn. Unlike other labels, the Balmain label has remained true to its original traditions and is loyal to its historical foundations and fierce spirit of founder Pierre Balmain.
Olivier Rousteing has refocused Balmain’s artisan couture roots to make a label that blends decadence with rock-chic glamour. Balmain is characterized by its rock n’ roll modern aesthetic, famous for its ornate jackets, spray-on leather trousers and tough, sexy and heavily-embellished dresses.
Balmain only has one boutique and that is the flagship store located at number 44 on the Rue François 1er, which is the historic home of Pierre Balmain couture.
Pierre Balmain establishes his own Haute Couture house of Balmain in the autumn of 1945. Balmain was one the few designers of the time responsible for bringing in opulent and lavish couture clothes after the war. Balmain’s signature looks were bold, feminine and elegant – creating a brand new image for women, who were tired of the wartime hardship. Balmain’s increasing popularity and feminine offerings, attracting world famous actresses and royalty.
The 1960s marked a decade of renewal for Pierre Balmain, who used fabrics sculpturally to create clean-cut, uncluttered designs. Pierre Balmain started to create simple and pure designs, believing that elegance was achieved through simplicity. He detested decadent ornamentation and embraced simplicity. He stated: “Keep to the basic principles of fashion and you will always be in harmony with the latest trends without falling prey to them.”
At this same time, Pierre Balmain published his autobiography ‘My years and seasons’ and won many awards for his on-screen costume creations.
With a loyal following and an impressive clientele of film stars and royalty, Pierre Balmain found the extremely popular and sought after Ready-to-Wear division.
Once Pierre Balmain passed away, his personal assistant and closest collaborator Erik Mortensen took over, making sure to maintain Balmain’s traditions. Although he developed styles, Mortensen kept it all in the spirit of Pierre. Mortensen’s dedication was widely recognised and he won two France Haute Couture Golden Thimble Awards for his Autumn Winter 1983/1984 collection and Autumn Winter 1987/1988 collection.
Erik Mortenson leaves the House of Balmain to be replaced by the young Herve Pierre, who served as Balmain’s designer from 1990 through to 1993 for both the Haute Couture and ready to wear collections. However, in 1992 the house was on the brink of collapse.
The American Oscar de la Renta was named as head designer, in hopes that he would rejuvenate the label. And he did. In January a star studded gala was held in Paris to celebrate Oscar de la Renta’s succession and his collection – which respected the elegance and foundations of Pierre Balmain - was praised by all in the industry. Once again, Balmain became known for its luxurious and trendy designs.
Laurent Mercier took over in 2003 but the house soon fell into financial hard times again and was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Investors revived Balmain in 2005, and brought on designer Christophe Decarnin to take the helm. It was a Decarnin’s appointment that transformed Balmain and raised it from the ashes. From a label known for evening attire, Decarnin modernised Balmain, creating looks that make Balmain famous for what it is today: a label that is ultra-chic and oozes rock star glamour. From vintage gowns, it is Balmain’s signature biker jackets and waxed jeans that now make its high-profile clients clamour for more. With a modern and sophisticated aesthetic made with the finest materials, Balmain became known as the ultimate trendsetting luxury label.
In 2011, Olivier Rousteing was named the labels Creative Director. Rousteing has kept the labels artisan roots while keeping with its rock-chick charm. From Pierre Balmain’s ornate dresses, the label is now known for its signature punky glamour. Despite the labels modernisation, Rousteing still pays homage to Pierre Balmain’s artisan roots by his attention to the finest and unique hand-made details.
Like Pierre Balmain, Rousteing is influenced by the modern-day woman’s’ demands for confident, sexy styles. Rousteing incorporates these modern-day wants with the house’s embroidery and old-fashioned tailoring techniques. Pierre Balmain stated that he aimed “to always dress women in the right look for the right moment,” and Rousteing adheres to this belief by creating designs that are tailored to our modern-day generation.
Rousteing is responsible for Balmain’s commercial success with celebrities fighting to wear the latest pieces. In 2014, Rousteing appointed Kanye and Kim Kardashian as the newest faces of Balmain’s SS15 menswear collection, making the Balmain label to always remain in the leagues of the rich and famous.
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