Pierre Alexandre Claudius Balmain (1914 – 1982) was a French fashion designer and founder of leading post-war fashion house Balmain.
Pierre was born on May 18 in the French town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. His father owned a small garment factory and his mother was a style consultant. From childhood, Pierre loved to observe the creativity and work of his parents, as he was fascinated by the process of creating exquisite clothes, which seemed to him sheer miracles.
After graduating from school, Pierre leaves his hometown for the capital of France — Paris. In 1934 he enters the Academy of Fine Arts (Académie des Beaux-Arts), where he begins to study architecture. During the day, he spends time at the Academy, while devoting the evenings to drawing sketches of luxurious evening dresses. A fluke gives Pierre an opportunity to meet the then-famous designer, Robert Piguet, and show him some of the sketches. The designer highly appreciates the talent of the future couturier, and even purchases three sketches from him. This helps Balmain to realize that creating exquisite outfits is his main calling.
Starting a career as a designer turns out to be not that easy at all: Pierre tries to get a job in some ateliers in Paris to learn the basics of sewing, being even ready to agree working there as a cleaner for a start, but still he does not manage to get a job in any fashion atelier during the whole year.
In 1936, luck again turns its face to Pierre, and the leading Parisian fashion designer Edward Molyneux invites him for an internship at his atelier. In order not to miss this opportunity, Pierre quits his studies at the Academy. However, the bright streak in his life is replaced by a darker one: Pierre is drafted into the army for 2 years. After completing his military service and returning to Paris, Balmain finds out that his place at the Edward Molyneux studio has already been given to another person.
Pierre does not despair and gets a job in the workshop of Lucien Lelong, where fate brings him together with a young and unknown designer at that time — Christian Dior. After the next six years of learning, his first collaborative collection with Christian Dior gets an immediate success thanks to his unique style of embroidery, intricate textures and fabrics.
In 1945, Pierre Balmain opens his own fashion house and the first boutique in Paris. In the same year, he releases his debut collection, which includes kimonos of an unusual cut, evening suits and dresses, puffy ball gowns with rhinestones and embroidery. In 1947, the young Karl Lagerfeld becomes Pierre Balmain’s assistant, and works for him for the next 9 years.
In 1947, Balmain creates his first fragrance “Elysees 64-83”, the numbers of which indicate the phone number of his elite tailoring workshop.
In 1950, the first runway show of Balmain in the USA takes place, as well as the new boutique of his brand opens its doors in New York. This allows him to become even more famous among the celebrities of the movie industry. Many of the outfits designed by Pierre Balmain begin to show up in popular movies of those years.
In the late 50s, Pierre Balmain revolutionizes the world of haute couture by creating cocktail dresses of short length, which at that time was considered too provocative and frank. However, such an innovation gains the greatest success.
When creating new models of clothing, Balmain starts using more and more exotic motifs, inspired by the works of world artists. Using complex oriental ornaments of floral and geometric weaves and patterns called arabesque, as well as gold, bronze and pearls, markedly distinguishes his outfits from other designers’.
In 1960, Pierre Balmain creates the complete wardrobe for the Queen Sirikit of Thailand, during her US tour.
In 1970, the uniform created by Balmain is being worn by the cabin crew of Malaysia–Singapore Airlines (later known as Singapore Airlines), as well as by the first female pilot of Air France in 1975.
In 1980, Balmain is getting nominated for the Tony Award for Best Costume Design and wins the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design.
Pierre Balmain dies at the age of 68 of cancer, in Paris, having just completed the sketches for his fall collection.