BALMAIN - A Legend is Reborn
Rapidly spreading through fashion magazines and all over the internet, Balmain became a popular luxury brand in the last decade or so, especially since Olivier Rousteing joined the fashion house and used his creative talent and social media skills to bring it back to life.
But what is behind this Parisian brand that most had never heard before? That’s what I will explain you throughout this article, the origins of this “new” fashion house with almost 70 years of history that now aims to be the next generations’ Chanel.
Before Balmain the brand there was Balmain the man. Pierre Balmain was born in 1914’s St Jean de Maurienne, in his early life he studied architecture but his passion was always fashion. Starting as an assistant in the fashion world, Pierre had the opportunity to work to Lucien Lelong alongside Hubert de Givenchy and Christian Dior.
After leaving Lucien Lelong, Pierre decided to found his own fashion house, it was 1945 and he took advantage of people wanting to overcome the ideas of simplicity and practicality brought by the hardship of war. His answer to this was a style called "Jolie Madame" characterised by its opulence and femininity, the style quickly became an icon and everyone from royalty to Hollywood stars were adopting the look.
Years later, at the age of 68 (1982), Pierre Balmain lost his battle with liver cancer and ended up passing away in the American Hospital in Paris. It was at this moment that his partner of more than 30 years, Erik Mortensen, took over Balmain has head designer. Erik was 12 years younger than Pierre and had joined the fashion house back in 1948, he successfully continued his work but over the years the brand faded away and the head designers kept changing, including names like Oscar de la Renta and Laurent Mercier.
The new chapter in the history of Balmain started in 2006, after years of financial struggling and almost filling for bankruptcy, Christophe Decarnin was nominated as head designer, he changed the direction of the brand by including a collection for men and introducing new trends like military jackets and ultra slim jeans that became somehow iconic.
But who took the brand to new heights in terms of brand awareness for the public was actually Olivier Rousteing who took the brand’s reins in 2011. Born in 1986, Olivier started his career in Roberto Cavalli after graduating from the École Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode. After leaving the Cavalli he was named head designer of Balmain at the age of 25, the fashion world was anxiously waiting for what would happen: an absolute fail or extreme success, the last one happened.
Olivier injected a new life in the historic brand, bringing influences from the pop culture, hip-hop and rock&roll with celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. He says to aim to customers like his personal best friend Kim Kardashian, who he described has “insanely beautiful, smart, confident (…) ( and a) business woman”.
His strategy has been focused on social media and the use of new technologies to spread the brand name and values, he actually describes the people following him and the brand on social media “ (…) As important as the front row, (that) having young people looking at your shows, looking at your fashion and supporting you. It is a new way of communication. It is stronger than magazines, you are not buying your audience, you don’t have to be a big advertiser” and this strategy has turned out profits for the fashion house.
Even thought relatively small with revenues around 30M€ in 2012, the fashion brand has grew its profits by more than 20% every year and all of this only a decade after being on the verge of bankruptcy (Remember that luxury brands can take decades to turn profit, see the example of Christian Lacroix that never turned a profit in decades).
Balmain Spring-Summer 2015 Campaign featuring Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
After all we can say that Olivier Rousteing is probably the reason why you are reading this article, the genius that turned a fading brand into the international success that Balmain is now by managing a combination of innovation, creativity and talent. This comes out to show what young blood is capable of, so congratulations on the great work Olivier.
If you want to know more about Balmain's present and future take a look at this great interview to both head designer Olivier Rousteing and CEO Emmanuel Diemoz by for The Business of Fashion.
Inside Balmain's Digital Revolution - Business of Fashion (20th March 2015)
From Kardashian to Couture: How Balmain Got Its 21st-Century Buzz - The Guardian (20th January 2015)
All the pictures above, with exception of the 2015 SS Campaign and Pierre Balmain's picture come from the editorial "A Sexy Night Out With The Balmain Army" by Mariano Vivanco for March 2015 issue of Têtu Magazine.