Balmain is a haute couture fashion house that was founded by Pierre Balmain. Balmain was born in 1914 in France. His father owned a drapery business and his mother and sister owned a fashion boutique where he often worked after his father’s death in 1921. He always had a love of fashion and an eye for design. He attended the Ècole des Beaux Arts in 1933-1934 with intent to study architecture but instead ended up spending the majority of his time designing dresses.
After working for atelier Robert Piquet as a freelance artist and spending time with Edward Molyneux, he left school to work for Molyneux. In the late 1930s, he served in the French air force and the army pioneer corps. After peace was declared, he worked at Lucien Lelong and opened his own fashion house under his name. He released his first collection in 1945 and his first fragrance in 1949. While at Lelong, he met Christian Dior, a designer who would play a huge role in Balmain’s career and the postwar fashion industry in general.
Being an extremely impractical art form, couture took a huge hit during the war. Ateliers utilized unconventional materials in their pieces and were forced to keep practicality in mind as their collections progressed with the modern woman. Couture is fashion made by hand explicitly for one individual wearer’s exact specifications; it takes thousands of man hours just to make one dress. Couture originated in Paris, which is renowned worldwide as the birthplace of high-end fashion. Wealthy women would travel by steamship to preview a collection and then purchase pieces, giving preference to color and fabric. Couture items are one of a kind and the highest quality fashion available. Today, couture is a luxury almost only available to celebrities. Balmain had always set extremely high standards for couture. He believed in fashion that exuded elegance and simplicity and would stand the test of time and created pieces that would universally celebrate the human form. His aesthetic was always to create easy and glamorous looks that radiated style without being flashy or ostentatious.
Ever the epitome of French fashion, he detested overly decorated designs and preferred to stick to refined lines and extreme attention to detail. He singlehandedly created what his close personal friend, author Gertrude Stein, called the “New French Style” – an immaculately poised and well-dressed woman who was embodied in his 1949 fragrance Jolie Madame. His designs were worn on women with prestige, from royalty to theatre and ballet. He was well regarded in the world of couture until his death in 1982, after which designer Erik Mortensen took the reins of the house.