Pierre Balmain garnered acclaim during the fifties for his full skirt creations embroidered with leaves, cherries, or other motifs. His designs were carefully crafted making them in demand for on screen and off screen celebrity wear during the fifties and celebrated as en vogue on today’s Hollywood red carpet runways.
Born on May 18, 1914 to a wholesale drapery business family, he has been quoted as saying some of his happiest memories are of playing with the fabrics in the shop where his mother made dresses. He studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris but left his architectural studies during the thirties when he began designing dresses for Molyneux.
He opened his own design house in 1945 featuring cinched waistlines with long bell-shaped skirts which later became more popular as “Dior’s New Look.”
Opening branches in the United States in 1951 and selling ready-to-wear clothes, Balmain became successful in designing French fashion for the American woman’s larger frame. He popularized the stole for day wear as well as evening wear and the sheath dress look underneath a jacket so prevalent in fifties fashions.
His couture designs were very much in demand by the early 1950s as he designed costumes for theater as well as Hollywood film. He created on screen and off screen clothing for Mae West and Vivien Leigh and costumed for Brigitte Bardot’s 1956 introduction to films in “God Created Woman.” He also designed wardrobes for the fifties fashion and style conscious Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn. His most beloved client was Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
Gallery Fashions Courtesy of The Frock
He was equally adept at designing simple, tailored suits as well as evening gowns for that authentic fifties woman look.
One of his elaborately appliqued bodice gowns was worn by Lady Gladwyn for a state visit dinner she hosted for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in April 1957. The floral creation was donated to and is featured in The Golden Age of Couture Exhibit at The Victoria and Albert Museum.
After his death in 1982, the design house was headed by his close associate Erik Mortensen with Oscar de la Renta taking over between 1993 and 2002. With the attention of these three, his design franchise became known worldwide for its classic yet elegant designs.