The House of Pierre Balmain (established 1945, Paris) has gone through one of the most remarkable existential crises witnessed in prêt-a-porter history. Its commercial success has always teeter-tottered, having seen lows in the mid 80’s under Oscar De La Renta and unprecedented highs since Christophe Decarnin joined the house in 2006. Yet, la maison Balmain has never ceased to reflect the subtle strengths and vulnerability of a woman.
Its conception occurred in a time of palpable post-WWII energy which overflowed into Balmain’s vision of the new, independent woman. She materialized in the form of simple feminine lines, her décolleté revealing the subtly sexy clavicle bones, and small waists paired with bell shaped skirts. Balmain’s girl was a phenomenon; she skips around Paris, ethereal, quietly confident and beaming with excitement at the notion of sexual independence.
This girl lost her relevance in the late 70s and Balmain was forced into an awkward and unsuccessful revitalization. In comes Oscar de la Renta as creative director, yet in his 10 year tenure, nothing seemed to resonate with the Balmain audience quite as notably as his predecessor. In the efforts of fossilizing Balmain’s presence in French couture, a brief and unsuccessful venture in multi-level marketing cosmetics was launched in 1998, along with other “relaunches” of past successful looks.
Then, what seemed like a lost cause was salvaged: the fresh naïveté of the 1950’s Balmain girl has somehow found her way into the impenetrable, ass-kicking exterior of Christophe Decarnin’s Balmain Girl. One might think, “What could these two girls have in common?” Pierre’s original Parisian lassie had the world as her oyster, post-war morale dissipated at the sight of her liberated “façon d’être.”
Decarnin’s scooter riding, no-waiting-in-line, chain-smoking woman exudes no fear, but consequently her clothing has become her armor. The modern woman might be sexually liberated, however she’s severely deprived of courtship, hence her clothing as an overcompensation for her sensitive and innately feminine soul.
KCD Paris (currently handling the brand’s press) held re-sees in October 2009 of the spring 2010 collection. Decarnin, like his girl, refuses to acknowledge the potential of fear and failure. They march on, military jacket and studded belt strapped tightly, into a confident and financially viable expedition.