Fifties' Designer Pierre Balmain

Pierre Balmain garnered acclaim during the fifties for his full skirt creations embroidered with leaves, cherries, or other motifs.

Pierre Balmain fitting a costume for Ruth Ford
Pierre Balmain with Ruth Ford
1947 Carl Van Vechten Photograph
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.

Early Years

Born on May 18, 1914 to a wholesale drapery business family, Pierre Balmain 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.

Cream and black embroidered evening gown by Pierre Balmain 1953
House of Balmain 1953
©Metropolitan Museum
Gift of  Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein II
Balmain 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."

Ready to Wear

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.

Model in fur stole over black sheath dress in Pierre Balmain 1951 Ad
Pierre Balmain 1951 Advertisement
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.

Couture and Costume

Balmain's couture designs were very much in demand by the early 1950's 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.

Model Dorian Leigh posing in floral evening dress by Pierre Balmain
Dorian Leigh in evening dress by Pierre Balmain,
Photo by P. de Harambure, 1955
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 at a state dinner hosted by the British Ambassador to Paris' wife Lady Gladwyn for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in April 1957.

The floral creation was donated to The Victoria and Albert Museum and is featured in The Golden Age of Couture Exhibit.

Pierre Balmain 1957
Donated by Lady Diana Cooper
©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.

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