Lightyears Collection
Pierre Balmain
(1914-1982)


Pierre Balmain with Ruth Ford*

Pierrre Balmain was born on May 19, 1914, in St. Jean de Maurienne, a small village near Aix-lex-Bains, a fashionable resort in the Savoy Mountains. His family owned a wholesale drapery business. His mother, François, worked at a boutique managed by her two sisters. Balmain's father died in 1921 when Balmain was seven years old.

In 1934 Balmain graduated from the Ecole Nationale Superiure de Beaux-Arts in Paris with a degree in architecture. The depression years put a strain on his ability to find work in this field but, even during his school years, he found work as a freelance illustrator. While in school he also had managed to sell some designs to Robert Piguet. Then, upon completing a trial period to test his abilities, he received work from Molyneux. This relationship continued from 1934 until 1939.

In 1936 Balmain was called to military service and served until 1939. Upon completion of his service he joined Lucien Lelong and worked for Lelong during the German occupation. In 1945, at the end of the war, he launched Maison Balmain.

With a promotional push from Gertrude Stein, Balmain's business flourished quickly. Between 1951 and 1972 he designed costumes for no less than sixteen Hollywood films whose stars included Vivien Leigh and Mae West. He also designed costumes for French films including God Created Woman staring Brigitte Bardot.

Designers who worked under Balmain include Gerard Pipart (from 1948), Jean-Baptiste Caumont (briefly), John Cavanagh (1947-1951), and karl Lagerfeld (1955-1958).

Pierre Balmain died in Paris on June 29, 1982.

After Balmain's death, Maison Balmain was placed in the hands of Erik Mortensen who had been with Balmain since 1948. In 1991 Mortensen retired from Balmain and the house was placed in the hands of Herve Pierre. In 1993 he was replaced by Oscar de la Renta who continued in this position for a very productive ten years.

Almost immediately upon opening his couture house Balmain began marketing perfume. His 1946 launch was Elysees 64-83, named for his telephone number. In 1947 he introduced Vent Vert by perfumer Germain Cellier who had already done several perfumes for his early design client, Robert Piguet.

Perfumes By Pierre Balmain

FragrancePerfumerBottle
Elysees 64-83 (1946)Germaine Cellier 
Vent Vert (1947)Germaine Cellier 
Balmain (1948)  
Jolie Madame (1953)Germaine Cellier 
Monsieur Balmain (1964)Germaine Cellier 
Miss Balmain (1967)  
Ivoire (1980) Pierre Dinand
Ébène (1983)  
Monsieur Balmain (1990 reintroduction)  
Vent Vert (1990 reintroduction)  
Balmain de Balmain (1998)  
Eau d'Ivorie (2000)  
Balmya (2002)Alexandra Jouet / Jean Jacques 
BalMan (2004)  
Eau d'Été (2004)  
Eau d'Amazonie (2005)Marie-Aude Couture 

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*PHOTO CREDIT: Carl Van Vechten. "Portrait of Pierre Balmain and Ruth Ford making a dress". November 9, 1947. Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964, Library of Congress.