Located at number 44 on the Rue François 1er, the historic home of Pierre Balmain couture had been successively modernized over the years. Thanks to the 2009 transformation overseen by architect and decorator Joseph Dirand, the maison de couture has rediscovered its former spirit of a private residence.
It was here at number 44 that the young Pierre Balmain, after working alongside fellow greats Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy at Lucien Lelong’s couture house, first founded his own couture house. The address, once an aristocratic townhouse, was initially a somewhat impractical home for fashion house. Balmain’s original twenty-four-person team included sixteen seamstresses sharing fifteen stools, (the unfortunate last arrival being forced to work while perched on the umbrella stand). The fabric storeroom was set in the kitchen and a bathroom was transformed into Pierre Balmain’s studio, with the desk fashioned from a plank of wood balanced across the bathtub.
But the young designer was determined to transform the space into something more befitting of one of post-war Paris’ leading maisons de couture. Salons were painted in aquamarine hues, with moldings highlighted in white. The ceilings, adorned with a profusion of 19th-century cherubs, were preserved. White mercerized linen curtains hung on the windows and the seating, as in all couture houses, relied on copies of Louis XVI cabriolet back chairs.
Gradually, in the decades after Pierre Balmain left the house he founded, a series of new design teams left their mark on the historic structure, replacing 18th-century styles with modern additions, including paler tones, carpeting and zenithal lighting.
When architect Joseph Dirand oversaw the 2009 transformation of Balmain’s historic Parisian flagship, many were surprised with the path he took. “I think some expected an interior that would be a much more literal reflection of the house’s latest clothing and accessories collections,” he recalls. “But I believed that by placing those designs in the unique historical context of both the house and its founder, I could best highlight Balmain’s current modern, sexy and luxurious offerings.”
To do that, Dirand stripped back some unfortunate late-twentieth-century additions to the historic former townhouse. Craftsmen restored 18th-century parquet floors and elaborate moldings and Dirand’s team sourced sculpted pieces and stone tiles from French chateaux.
Today, an imposing stone staircase leads visitors upstairs to the large ceremonial reception room and a smaller sitting room. Three abstract mirrored shapes punctuate the floor, providing a modern contrast to the restored aristocratic elegance. Fixtures and furnishings come from the great names of French ‘40s furniture design—Gilbert Poillerat, André Arbus, Jean Royère—reflecting the admiration that the house founder, Pierre Balmain, had for the leading talents of his time.