L'Atelier Balmain Podcast - Episode 6

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A NEW FRENCH STYLE: HORST, GRUAU AND ICONIC BALMAIN IMAGES

Maira Kalman: “So, there is this wonderful photo and Gertrude is in her big coat and cap and with her big fluffy white dog, Basket—in a fancy room where you wouldn't expect her to be. But there she is with this wonderful model and an incredible fanciful gown. And then you realize that there is no limit to what you can be interested in. You can find yourself anywhere in looking at fashion and looking at art, music, architecture, dance. There is no limit to curiosity. And that's the feeling. One of expansiveness and humor—and the just sheer giddy delight that is clear in this photo.”

Rosamond Bernier: “It amused me so very much—Gertrude looking as she did, and then this glamorous creature, with a ruff, towering over and looking down at her. And Basket was right there. I thought the combination was quite wonderful.”

Susanna Brown: “Looking at this picture, there are these two women that are almost polar opposites. One, a woman in her 70s, huddled in her coat, sitting down low. Another who is an incredibly tall, young, confident, elegant figure. What’s interesting is that there's an uncropped version of this photograph, which isn't so frequently published, where we see two tiny little figures on the extreme right of the picture who are actually the illustrator, Eric and Rosamond Bernier from Vogue watching this photo shoot unfold from the wings, as it were.

After having spent the last three episodes discussing the creation and presentation of the first Balmain collection—as well as the larger-than-life personalities connected with that moment, this podcast start off by concentrating on one incredible, 75-year-old, black-and-white photo. Maira Kalman created a colorful retelling of that legendary image for her new edition of the “Autobiography of Alice B Toklas”—and we’ve placed that Kalman painting above.

Photo Credit: Maira Kalman painting of Gertrude Stein sitting in the Balmain showroom — from the new edition of The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas. By Gertrude Stein and Illustrated by Maira Kalman Penguin Press New York 2020

Click on the links below for more information on Maira Kalman’s creations and to see the original, uncropped, Horst photograph of Gertrude Stein seated inside the Balmain showroom—now part of the official collection of the Horst Estate. The third button links to a recent Vogue article highlighting that image, as well as Stein’s original review of the Balmain show and a selection of Balmain images that have appeared in Vogue over the last 75 years.

SUSANNA BROWN ON HORST P HORST

To explore this special image and the photographer behind it, we turned to Susanna Brown.

Brown, a photography curator and art historian, has overseen some of the past decade’s most impressive photography exhibitions at London’s Victoria And Albert (V&A) Museum, including a 2012 exhibit on Cecil Beaton as well as the acclaimed 2019 show on Tim Walker.

And, luckily for us, there’s probably nobody more qualified to speak about Horst than Susanna Brown.

She edited the V&A’s enormous and beautiful book on Horst—which is probably the definitive celebration of the extraordinary photographic career of Horst P. Horst. She also curated the museum’s 2014 show "Horst: Photographer of Style" —which was an international touring exhibit, showcasing over 250 images drawn from Horst’s six-decade career.

Looking for more Horst information and images from his six-decade career? Click on the links below to visit the V&A’s introduction to Horst, as well as that same museum’s Horst Collection page. Further images and information can also be found by clicking on the link leading to the Horst Estate webpage.

To view some of the Horst images that Susanna Brown describes in this episode, including the Marcel Vertès-Lisa Fonssagrives shooting and two iconic photos from Horst’s second day of shooting Gertrude Stein for Vogue in 1946, click on the links below.

Photo Credit: Cover Image courtesy of the book’s editor, Susanna Brown.

RENE GRUAU

Balmain had a long and rich history with the illustrator Rene Gruau. Gruau had known Pierre Balmain ever since the designer was working with Lucien Lelong, during the occupation. And, as soon as Balmain showed his first collection in 1945, Gruau began illustrating the new house’s strongest designs—both for Balmain and the leading magazines.

After that very first show, Gruau selected the same luxury-spin of the Varause pull-over that Beaton wanted to photograph for Vogue — and Gruau painted two beautiful 1945 illustrations of that popular design.

Alice B Toklas also selected Gruau to illustrate her 1946 limited-edition art pamphlet that praised Balmain’s “New French Style.” For that Toklas booklet, Gruau created eight beautiful black-and-white images of the new Balmain woman. In fact, one of those images—that of The Balmain Woman as she left the Opera—relied on the same impressive cape and ruffled neck design that we see on model towering over Stein during that iconic Horst photo shoot inside the Balmain showroom.

Pierre Balmain also turned to Gruau for some of his house’s first and most important campaigns.

From 1947 through 1965, Gruau oversaw the imagery used for the publicity of the house perfumes—beginning with an illustration of a reclining couture model speaking on the phone for Balmain’s first scent—ELY 64.83—which was cleverly named for the house’s first telephone exchange (and that same name was recently given to the Olivier Rousteing’s newest line of sleek leather accessories). Gruau also drew the windswept models in the ads for the Vent Vert scent—as well as the multiple beautiful images used the house’s best-selling scent, Jolie Madame—with Gruau concentrating on the couture creations of the house for that series, paintings a different collection’s design, for each new campaign.

To view some of Gruau’s many fashion images, click on some of the links below to view some recent French coverage of his distinctive art.


Photo Credit: Gruau’s distinctive signature—Diegolola, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

EARLY BALMAIN DESIGNS IN THE V&A COLLECTION

As Susannah Brown noted, several of the designs that we’ve touched upon over the past four episodes now form a part of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s impressive fashion collection. Within that collection is a very chic bridal jacket and headdress, which Balmain created for Stella Carcano’s January 1946 London wedding. The fitted, waist-length jacket is of quilted white satin and it is embroidered with gleaming pearls. The jacket was paired with a white skirt and Balmain also designed a chic, matching padded pillbox hat for the bride, which is also housed in the V&A collection.

Photo Credit: Detail of Balmain jacket for Stella Carcano weddding. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This stunning rose-patterned evening gown, from 1957, is also a part of the V&A’s impressive fashion collection. As Susannah Brown noted, this couture creation is made of cream printed silk with a strapless body and the waist trimmed with appliqué rose motifs, which shade into the wide skirt. The dress was originally worn by Lady Diana Cooper, who had first heard about Pierre Balmain from her longtime friend, Cecil Beaton. As we note in Episode Three, Beaton had arrived at one of Diana and Duff Cooper’s famous Salon Vert evenings at the British Embassy after he had attended his first Balmain show. Beaton shared the news about his discovery of Paris’ newest star couturier with the Coopers and their society and artist friends. Diana Cooper soon became a life-long fan of the house—and she wore this Balmain couture creation to a special ball given at the British Embassy, in honor of the 1957 visit of the Queen and Prince Philip to Paris. At the end of the evening, Cooper stayed on with Beaton in the embassy’s Ionian Room, until early in the morning, as he sketched her in this Balmain gown.

Photo Credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
As we discussed in Episode Four of the podcast, Pierre Balmain began creating special designs for his good friends Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein during the “dark days” of the Nazi occupation—when the couple was living in the French countryside, near Aix Les Bains. Balmain’s creations for his “two American Mothers” were quite different from the elegant couture gowns that he was creating in Paris for Lucien Lelong, at that same time. Since Stein and Toklas stressed that they needed warm and comfortable clothes that reflected their bohemian personalities as much as their country lifestyle, Balmain crafted tweed suits and dresses that—while making clear his expert skills—were nothing like the Balmain designs that today we associate with the house.

As Balmain explained in his memoirs, “Generally, they were only voluminous skirts that came down to the ankle, with matching jackets—but the buttons were of embossed silver and the linings in dove-colored taffeta. Gertrude always ordered deep pockets, in which she plunged her arms up to the elbows, in order to withdraw the paraphernalia of her everyday life. Both of them wore with distinction clothes that might have appeared ridiculous on anybody else.”

Pierre Balmain continued designing for the couple after they returned to a liberated Paris—and Stein was particularly proud to be wearing a Pierre Balmain creation when she sat in the front row of the young designer’s very first show, writing in Vogue, “I suppose there at the opening, we were the only ones who had been clothed all those long years in Pierre Balmain’s clothes, we were proud of it. It is nice to know the young man when he is just a young man and nobody knows, and now well I guess very soon now anybody will know. And we were so pleased and proud. Yes we were.”

As Susannah Brown notes, when Gertrude Stein posed for Horst during the legendary two-day Vogue photo session, Stein was wearing her very latest Balmain designs. Her brown-velvet ensemble had a slightly flowing skirt, a jacket and a hat with black tassels and sequins. It now forms a part of the fashion collection of the Victoria and Albert museum, and that Balmain outfit can also be seen clearly in some of the best-known Horst images from that famous Vogue session (click on links, below, to view).

Photo Credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

COME FLY WITH ME

Perhaps the most interesting parallel between the house’s very beginnings and Olivier Rousteing’s present, could be spotted in the very latest Balmain presentation, for the Men’s and Women’s Fall 2021 collections.

For, after a year of parallels between the challenges that Parisian fashion faced both post-war and during pandemic—Rousteing took the obvious next step.

As Rousteing made clear in his interviews with the press—now is the time to remember the joy that immediately followed Pierre Balmain’s first show.

As we all cross our fingers, optimistically hoping for soon-to-arrive better days, Olivier Rousteing found inspiration in Pierre Balmain’s excitement after his first show.

Because, as Rousteing told the press — 75 years ago, after the incredible triumph of his house’s first couture presentation, what did Pierre Balmain do?

He packed up his bags and started traveling.

He jetted off to America, not to talk about collections, but instead, following the directive of his friend Gertrude Stein, to act as a roving ambassador, crisscrossing the entire United States to deliver lectures on French culture and savoir-faire. He also jumped across the Channel, transporting his fresh new feminine take on couture to London, six years after the war had abruptly put an end to all imports of Parisian fashion. And, after an eight-day, multi-stop series of flights across half the globe, he touched down in Australia, bringing news of his house’s “New French Style” to Down Under.

Now, post-2020, it’s a whole lot easier for all of us to appreciate just how exciting and liberating those trips must have felt for Pierre Balmain.

After the anxious years of war and occupation, Balmain was suddenly being offered the long-denied possibility of escaping to destinations that he and everyone around him must have been dreaming about for years—and it must have felt incredible to be able to do it.

Olivier Rousteing’s video for Fall 2021 collection, filmed inside the impressive hangars of Air France at Charles de Gaulle airport, as well as his men’s and women’s collections, aim to channel that moment’s amazing sensations of freedom and liberty.

And, now as we all think about the joy and optimism that the young Pierre Balmain must have felt in late 1945—with the long war years finally over and his daring audacious gamble of his first collection having paid off—we also understand a little better that impressive power that travel offers us. It helps to open minds, uplift spirits and reunite those who have been kept apart—something that inspires all of us, as we look forward, together, to soon-to-arrive better days.

Video Credit: Balmain Men’s and Women’s Spring 2021

JOSEPHINE BAKER’S FLEUR DE PARIS

Building on that spirit of liberation and freedom, we close up our examination of Balmain’s inaugural presentation with another version of the same post-war hit that we played during our beginning episode: Fleur de Paris.

The joy and pride that Josephine Baker feels as she sings is evident—and understandable. After all, Baker is a decorated French war hero—she actually fought for the French Resistance. And her post-Liberation excitement reflects the same optimistic confidence in the power of new beginnings that Pierre Balmain clearly shared with her.

Photo: Rgbitman, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

C'est une fleur de chez nous
Elle a fleuri de partout
Car c'est la fleur du retour
Du retour des beaux jours
Pendant quatre ans dans nos cœurs
Elle a gardé ses couleurs
Bleu, blanc, rouge, elle était vraiment avant tout
Fleur de chez nous.

This is a flower from our home
She has blossomed everywhere
Because this is the flower of returning
Returning to better days
For four years, in our hearts
She held on to her colors
Blue, white, red—she remained before all others
The flower from our home

Discover now

Credits

HORST, GRUAU AND ICONIC BALMAIN IMAGES

Balmain Creative Director: Olivier Rousteing
Special Podcast Guest: Susanna Brown
Special Podcast Guest: Maira Kalman
Special Podcast Guest: Lynn Yaeger
Music: “Fleur de Paris” by Josephine Baker
Additional Music: Jean-Michel Derain
Episode Direction and Production: Seb Lascoux
Balmain Historian: Julia Guillon
Episode Coordination: Alya Nazaraly
Research Assistance: Fatoumata Conte and Pénélope André
Digital Coordination/Graphic Identity: Jeremy Mace
Episode researched, written and presented by John Gilligan

To explore further:
The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein, Illustrated by Maira Kalman (Penguin 2020)
Horst Photographer Of Style; Susanna Brown (Victoria and Albert Museum)
Pierre Balmain’s Autobiography: My Years and Seasons, (Doubleday, 1965)

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