Throughout its long history, the quintessentially Parisian house of Balmain has managed to retain its unique position as both a historic French house and as a leading trendsetting brand that others look to as a reference.
Pierre Balmain (born 1914 in St Jean de Maurienne, a small alpine village in the Savoie region of France) is a member of the elite group of visionary designers that guided French fashion to its renaissance after World War II. After briefly studying architecture (to appease his mother) Balmain began his career in fashion as an assistant to master Parisian couturier Lucien Lelong, working alongside fellow greats Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy. He left Lelong to establish his own house in the autumn of 1945.
Balmain’s signature “Jolie Madame” style offered a startling contrast to the relaxed and utilitarian looks of the day – and its immediate popularity made clear that French women were eager to free themselves from the remaining vestiges of wartime hardship and embrace Balmain’s boldly feminine and opulent offering.
“Jolie Madame” quickly became a favorite style of both European and Hollywood royalty. The world’s greatest actresses turned to Pierre Balmain to design their cocktail dresses, evening gowns and wedding dresses. Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Brigitte Bardot, Josephine Baker, Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Sophia Loren were some of the many stars drawn to Balmain’s richly embroidered fabrics, nipped-in waists and longer, fuller skirts.
Unlike some couture houses that have turned their back on what they once were, Balmain has always proudly remained true to the vision and trailblazing spirit of its founder. Since Pierre Balmain’s death in 1982, the house has been guided by a series of strong designers, each balancing modern offerings with the need to respect the foundations and traditions of the house. These designers—Erik Mortensen, Herve-Pierre, Oscar de la Renta, Laurent Mercier and Christophe Decarnin—were all inspired by the colors, fluidity and elegance of Balmain’s signature “Jolie Madame” aesthetic.
Olivier Rousteing was named as the label’s designer in 2011 and his critically and commercially acclaimed collections have helped to push the label forward on its pathway of rapid growth. Rousteing is influenced by the unique confident style of today’s modern women as well as the work of the masters who have guided Balmain before him. He incorporates the house’s well-known mastery of tailoring, embroidery and traditional techniques of classic couture into his collections.
Just as Pierre Balmain stressed that his first objective was “to always dress women in the right look for the right moment,” Rousteing aims to create designs that chime with the way women of his generation are dressing now. The young designer’s couture spirit—seen in his careful attention to unique and handwrought details—is balanced by his collections’ very modern silhouette.
Pierre Balmain’s beautiful atelier and showroom at 44 Rue Francois 1er, in the heart of Paris’ exclusive “triangle d'or” neighborhood, has remained the house’s iconic flagship address throughout its history. In 2009, the historic boutique was restored to its original 18th-century grandeur by Parisian architect Joseph Dirand. The elegant space—with its gold-leaf trimmed doors, 1940’s classic furniture, Versailles parquet floors and elaborate ceiling moldings—recalls the address’ original function as an aristocratic residence and serves as a template for many of the brand’s boutiques and shop-in-shops around the world.