Pierre Balmain: Timeless is Always In

The French-born designer Pierre Balmain founded his self-titled atelier in the midst of one of the
most tumultuous times in world history: the 1940s. Coming from wholesome beginnings, his
name would become synonymous with the most luxurious of clothing. In 1945, as intensity and
stringent vibes perpetuated in more ways than one, Pierre Balmain created beauty and richness
through feminine-focused design and couture. Balmain was able to create a new element of
timelessness with his pieces and inspirations, and affect not just France, not just Germany, but
the whole world of fashion and create a household name.
One of the most well-known and revered names in fashion and atelier, Balmain transcends time
periods. However, every great designer and creator must have a great teacher: before he
founded his own empire, and after visiting the studio of Edward Molyneux in 1934, Balmain
worked alongside some of the best at Lucien Lelong; notably some very casual names such as
Dior and Hubert Givenchy; all of them inherently talented in and known for high-end feminine,
couture pieces. The time spent alongside these exquisite craftsmen and pioneers of modern
timeless fashion served as the foundation that Balmain created his own atelier on in 1945. The
first collection he produced was showcased in Vogue in the November issue; noted by
Balmain’s friend and famed writer Gertrude Stein that the collection was both aesthetically
pleasing and incredibly wearable. Although Dior, Givenchy, and Balmain inherently are
distinctive and different, they all carry a certain je ne sais quoi; an element of class and quality
that tends to permeate through all areas of fashion; fashion that could have only come from
such a chaotic time in history.
Although couture and lavish modes were not new to the world, specifically Europe, Balmain
zeroed in on the absolute inherent femininity of couture, and highlighted its presence in the
United States. His stunning silhouettes accompanied with meticulous detail were at the
forefront of the fashion world fully in the 1950s. His streamlined suits and tailored ball gowns
struck a chord with the mid-century party culture in America. His first ready-to-wear line was the
catalyst to him receiving the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in 1955. In similar fashion to other
notable pioneers of modern mode, Balmain’s pieces were brought to life, and gained traction,
through the people who wore them in the formative years; notably Marlene Dietrich, Katharine
Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, and Sophia Loren. Plus, these queens of cinema wore Balmain both
on and off screen; properly introducing Balmain’s designs to a wide audience. The trick though,
and more important than these dimes simply wearing the designs, is that Balmain tailored the
styles to these, and other stars, while still remaining true to himself and his designs and
personal inspiration.
Balmain’s traction increased as the world began to see more and more of his pieces in their
everyday happenings; that is, as they saw more and more people wearing the newer designer’s
looks. His looks became so popular in relation to young starlets wearing them, in fact, that

Balmain was chosen by Queen Sirikit of Thailand during her 1960 tour of the United States to
design her wardrobe in its entirety for this jaunt; she was fond of Balmain’s traditional yet bold
looks after seeing them on other actresses and women of note and status. And, if designing an
entire wardrobe for a Queen did not solidify his status enough in fashion, he was then chosen to
design not only the outfits and uniforms for the 1968 Winter Olympics, but also the uniforms for
TWA and Malaysia–Singapore Airlines. The most iconic jaunt into real-world clothes for
Balmain, perhaps was designing the uniform for Air France’s first woman crew member. If it
were not certain before, it surely was then: Balmain had made a name for himself; and he was
not just a name associated with high fashion and those in the know, he was a household name,
now known for his talent and versatility in addition to his charming and striking couture pieces.
Balmain’s legacy has remained and continued to grow and flourish. With a successful foray into
both costume design and fragrance production, Balmain carved his name into the permanent
list of iconic designers of the time. In his time working, as well as following his death, Balmain
spotted and taught and worked with lots of talent; talent that was able to continue his legacy and
ideas at the House of Balmain. After Balmain passed in 1982, he was succeeded by Erik
Mortensen, going from being almost an assistant to Balmain to working to maintain the legacy
and aesthetic Balmain worked so hard to create. Following Mortensen, it was Herve Pierre who
took over. Notably, Oscar de la Renta also headed Balmain briefly from 1993 to 2002; bringing
another famous personality and design element to the already stellar brand of Balmain. It was
then Christope Decarnin who took the brand’s ideals and fully launched them properly into the
21st century; something none of Balmain’s previous successors had dared to do. Decarnin was
replaced by Olivier Rousteng in 2011; who we still see creating and heading Balmain today.
Like many of the founding and most influential people in fashion, Balmain reserved his place in
history because he did not just design clothing, he designed an empire. He proved to the world
that he could make lovely timeless clothes work again and again, and never ever go out of style.
He showed the world that his designs and his technique was applicable to many areas and not
just in couture houses, and he most importantly wooed the world with his passion and skill.
Balmain will continue to be a designer of note for generations and generations to come.
By Adi Shoham