Pierre Balmain was born in 1914 in St. Jean de Maurienne, a small village not far from Aix-les-Bains a fashionable resort in the Savoy Mountains of France. His family owned a wholesale drapery business. His mother Fracoise, worked at a boutique managed by her two sisters. Balmain's father died when he was only 7 years old and 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 did not complete his studies. He spent his spare time designing dresses and took some of them to show Robert Piguet, who bought three. He went to Molyneux who promised to give him a trial and when he was accepted, he left his architectural studies. From 1934 to 1939, he worked for Molyneux. In 1936 he was called up for compulsory military service. When he had completed this in 1939, he joined Lucien Lelong and worked there during the German occupation of Paris.
In 1945 he opened his own house, showing long bell-shaped skirts with small waists - a line which 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 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 we sometimes half belted. In the same period, his cossack like wraps and capes were tend-setters. 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. Several designers worked under Pierre Balmain, who have gone on to become famous in their own names, including Gerard Pipart from 1948, Jean-Baptiste Caumont briefly, 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". The book is a little difficult to find since such a long time has passed, but it sometimes comes up on Amazon.com "used" section. Look out for it.
He died in Paris in 1982. His house was continued by Erik Mortensen, a Danish designer , who had been Balmain's right hand man. Subsequently the house has been run by other designers including Herve Pierre from 1991.
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