A native of the Savoie in France, Pierre Balmain was born on May 19, 1914. He graduated from the Ecole Nationale Superiure de Beaux-Arts in Paris with a degree in Architecture in 1934. He worked as a freelance illustrator and assistant designer after graduation. The winds of war were in Europe during the 1930s, and like most young men during that time, Balmain served in the military (1936-1940). After World War II (1945) he founded Maison Balmain and was its Director until 1982, the year he died. Balmain’s background in architecture played a big role in his designs. He saw clothes in terms of architectural elements brought to life in human forms. He believed in elegance brought by simplicity.
Balmain’s elegant, super-feminine looks were favorites among European royalty and Hollywood fashion plates like Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren. After Balmain’s death, the company continued to exist. In 1992, Oscar De La Renta took the role as Creative Director, a position which he would hold for 10 years. His last collection for Balmain was Haute Couture Fall 2002. In Nov 2001, Laurent Mercier was hired to design the ready-to-wear collection for Balmain. He debuted in Paris during the Fall 2002 ready-to-wear fashion season and received rave reviews from fashion editors.
The Swiss-born Mercier then debuted at Paris Haute Couture Show during the Spring 2003 season with mixed reviews. Mercier stayed with Balmain for just over a year, resigning from his post on June, 2003. Two months later, on Aug 1, French designer Christophe Lebourg assumed the top creative post in Balmain. He made his debut during Paris Spring 2004 season. The company hit troubled times during 2004, lasting for two years wherein during that time it was forced to file bankruptcy. After two years of hiatus from the catwalk, Balmain came back during the Fall 2006 Paris ready-to-wear season (Feb 2006) under a new Creative Director Christophe Decarnin. F
or a label that was once known for ultra elegant evening attire with a draping and pleating focus, Decarnin’s appointment took it toward tough-chic, thigh-grazing, body-skimming looks—a sensibility that embraces the quintessential trendsetting French party-girl. Owner Alain Hivelin claims that sales have doubled since Decarnin’s appointment, projecting 2009 to amass $28 million in revenue (the clothes are notoriously expensive—a sparkly tee is $3,000, dresses are $12,000 to $22,000, and jackets are $5,000).
Expansions are also in the works, adding staff, a shoe line with Giuseppe Zanotti, and the label’s first men’s collection in Paris in January 2009.
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