Pierre Balmain

Daphne Stylianou

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA220

The name of Balmain is synonymous with French couture, and the House of Balmain’s has held a dominant position in the fashion industry since the 1940s. Pierre Balmain was born in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, Savoy, France in 1914. He was introduced to high fashion at a young age, as his father owned a wholesale drapery business.

In 1933, Balmain made the move to Paris to study architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, but soon found his way to the studio of Edward Molyneux and started working there full-time. Following his military service in the French air force, the designer got a job with Lucien Lelong in 1941, where he continued his initiation into the elegant world of couture and met fellow designer Christian Dior.

Opening Maison Balmain in the fall of 1945, the designer launched his first collection to positive reviews, presenting long, bell-shaped skirts emphasizing the waist—a popular style that captured the essence of 1940s and 1950s fashion. Vogue magazine featured his work in photographs by Cecil Beaton. The global attention he received brought in clients from Hollywood to royalty, and soon his designs were worn by Marlene Dietrich and the Duchess of Windsor alike. With a pioneering style and creative vision, Balmain continued to evolve his designs but remained true to his signature look of refined elegance and luxury until his death in 1982, whereupon his closest assistant, Erik Mortensen, took over.

Balmain, Fall/Winter 1998. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Taylor Kerry. Vintage Fashion & Couture: From Poiret to McQueen . London : Mitchell Beazley, 2013.

Find in Library Wilcox Claire. The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947–1957 . London : V&A Publishing, 2008.