Friday, 16 September 2011
Pierre Balmain was born in St Jean de Maurienne, France in 1914. He owed much of his early training in fashion to the two greatest designers of the time - Edward Molyneux and Lucien Lelong - opening his own Haute Couture house immediately following the war, in the autumn of 1945, on the Rue Francois in Paris. Clients quickly flocked to Balmain, and were thrilled to discover the new image he had created for women. The Balmain woman had shed the last vestiges of wartime hardship with abundant insouciance and charm, and heralded a return to opulence in richly embroidered gowns and ensembles.
In 1951 he opened branches in the United States selling ready-to-wear clothes. During the 1950s, Balmain popularised the stole for day as well as evening wear and created a vogue for sheath dresses beneath jackets. His talent as a designer lay in his ability to make simple, tailored suits as well as grand evening gowns, all with the same aesthetic of slender and elegant lines. Balmain also designed the iconic uniform of the Singapore Airlines Singapore Girl, loosely based on the traditional Indonesian kebaya.
The 1960s were years of renewal for Pierre Balmain, who used fabrics sculpturally for the creation of uncluttered designs accenting pure structure and contrasts of cut and style. This was also a richly productive period in the field of costuming for stage and screen. In addition, Balmain designed personal wardrobes for numerous international stars, including Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, and Katherine Hepburn - to name just a few. This period also marked Balmain's first meeting with Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand, who chose him to be her personal couturier.
The name Pierre Balmain stands for a unique concept of elegance, a clientele of royalty and film stars, and a fashion hallmark recognised throughout the world. The ready-to-wear division, founded in the 1970s, has gradually made an impact on the market and is now registering significantly satisfying results, with some 220 licenses worldwide.
With the disappearance of Pierre Balmain in 1982, the torch was passed to Erik Mortensen - his personal assistant since 1951 and his closest collaborator - who maintained the House's traditions while developing and updating styles and designs in the spirit of its founder. In recognition of this achievement, Mortensen won the France Haute Couture Golden Thimble Awards for his Autumn-Winter 1983/1984 collection. Erik Mortensen then went onto his second French Haute Couture Golden Thimble Award, presented at the Palais Galleria on 31 July 1987, for his Autumn-Winter 1987/1988 collection. When Erik Mortensen left the House of Balmain in July 1990, he was replaced by youthful Herve-Pierre, who served as designer from 1990 through 1993 for both the Haute Couture and ready-to-wear collections.
In january 1993, internationally renowned American designer Oscar de la Renta signed his first Haute Couture collection for Pierre Balmain and has now rejuvenated the line while respecting the colours, the fluidity and elegance of the "Jolie Madame" esprit.
Keep a look out for more instalments from My Vintage profiling the greatest names in fashion history!