Saturday, June 19, 2010

Focus On Fashion: Pierre Balmain

I’d like to continue the series on designers by talking about the second of the top three post war designer Pierre Balmain. Balmain also claimed that he had inspired Dior's New Look. Certainly, like Jacques Fath, his work featured narrow waists and wide bell shaped skirts and narrow shoulders. As contemporaries, it is only natural that these three men would have inspired each other's work, and it appears that Dior just happened to release his look at exactly the right time to claim the prize of the New Look.

Pierre Balmain was born in 1914 in St. Jean de Maurienne, in the fashionable resort area of the Savoy Mountains of France. His family owned a wholesale drapery business. His happiest childhood memories were of playing in the shop where his mother and aunts made dresses. He played with the fabrics and set his heart on becoming a couturier.

Balmain studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, but never completed his studies, instead spending his time designing dresses. He began taking them to designers and eventually took some of them to Robert Piguet. Piguet was impressed and bought three. He also went to Molyneux who accepted him as an apprentice. With his acceptance at Molyneax he left his architectural studies permanently and worked for Molyneax from 1934 to 1939.

In 1936 left to serve his compulsory military service, which he completed in 1939. Upon his return to Paris he joined the house of Lucien Lelong and worked there throughout the German occupation of Paris.

In 1945 he opened his own house on the Rue Francois 1er in Paris, featuring long bell-shaped skirts and small waists for his debut collection, this line would later became popular as Dior's New Look.

In 1947 he launched a perfume and gave it his telephone number Elysees 64-83.

In 1951 he opened branches in the USA selling ready-to-wear clothes. His success in the USA has been attributed to the fact that he was able to translate French fashion into clothes for the American woman's generally larger frame, without compromising style. Balmain also designed the iconic uniform of the Singapore Airlines Singapore Girl, loosely based on the traditional Malay kebaya.

Balmain designed many sportswear collections for this ready-to-wear market.

During the 50's, the "bouffant" skirt remained high fashion for evening wear, accompanied by the boned strapless top. His talent as a designer lay in his ability to make simple, tailored suits as well as grand evening gowns, in the same slender, supple and elegant lines. During the 50's he popularized the stole for day as well as evening wear and created a vogue for sheath dresses beneath jackets.

His coats were generously cut to give a full back and were sometimes half belted. In the same period, his cossack like wraps and capes were tendsetters. Balmain was noted as a designer for the international set.

In addition to his couture work, Pierre Balmain's designs were greatly in demand in Hollywood. Between 1951 and 1972, he designed costumes for 16 films, starring such stars as Vivien Leigh and Mae West. His elegance was also in demand for the off-screen clothes of Hollywood stars. He also designed for French films, including the famous film "God Created Woman" which introduced Brigitte Bardot to the world.

Among the designers who worked for Balmain, who later went on to become famous in their own right are John Cavanagh from 1947 to 1951 and Karl Lagerfeld from 1955 to 1958.

In 1964 Pierre Balmain wrote his autobiography, entitled "My Years and Seasons".

He died in Paris in 1982. His house was continued by Erik Mortensen, a Danish designer , who had been Balmain's right hand man since 1948. He left Balmain in 1991 replaced by Herve Pierre who remained the designer for two years.

In 1993, Oscar de la Renta took over the couture design for Balmain. He presented collections for Balmain for nearly 10 years, which were very successful. Oscar left Balmain in July 2002.

In December 2001 Swiss-born Laurent Mercier took over Balmain ready-to-wear. In November 2002, he was also appointed Artistic Director of Balmain Haute Couture division.

In 2003 Christophe Lebourg became the new Artistic Director for Balmain.

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