Shoulder Pads: Balmain’s Signature

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Architecture always had an important place within Pierre Balmain’s creativity – as a young man, the couturier studied architecture while creating fashion drawings on the side. These two disciplines would soon feed off one another, and when Balmain founded his eponymous brand in 1945, it yielded a new fashion with structured lines and a curved feminine silhouette. After WWII, while fashion was paralyzed by the demands and abrupt conditions of the war, Balmain brought out impassive and functional pieces that were still “boldly feminine”. The couturier retained the importance of stature from the fields of architecture and added belts and shoulder pads to it. He founded a new femininity where elegant women finally enjoyed a position of power equal to men. In just five years, the Balmain brand already had a huge following; then in 1952 the ready-to-wear line “Florilège” kicked off the couturier’s international reputation. Talking heads evoked a new French style, as shoulder pads made Balmain’s structure the look of modernity.

The Jolie Madame collection introduced in Spring 1956 would definitively cement Pierre Balmain as one of the great couturiers in the Parisian scene. Brigitte Bardot, Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Sophia Loren, and crowned heads the world over would all find a certain refinement in the equation of Balmain’s lines. Skirts, dresses, and suits with cinched waists and elongated shoulder pads became the signature of this label at 44 rue François 1er. When he arrived as creative director of the brand in 2006, Christophe Decarnin updated Balmain’s style – and he didn’t do things half-way either. Micro-dresses and sequins became the prerogative of number 44, while powerful shoulder pads highlighted an elongated bust on wild hips. A new fashion was launched. Decarnin put Balmain back on the map and in international wardrobes. The brand’s pieces that captured light like none other would dress up beauties around the world. Glamorous and super sexy, the designer left an impact with his iconic ultra-accentuated and super-square silhouettes – very Balmain-esque, in short.

His success was phenomenal; fashion editors around the world and cinema stars alike would promote the new look. In 2009, the Fall/Winter collection definitively went down in the books with their brandenburg officer vests and elongated shoulder pads. Sported by Emmanuelle Alt, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and even Michael Jackson, celebrities once more became the finest ambassadors of Balmain style. When Olivier Rousteing took over for Christophe Decarnin, he further accentuated the glamour and sexiness of the new rock and roll aesthetic. With rigorous tailoring, Rousteing reaffirmed the brand’s fascination and mastery of oversized shoulder pads, with plunging décolletés and belts worn tight and high-waisted. With very structured and spectacularly dense pieces, this femininity is conquering, confident, and seductive. Today, the Balmain woman never goes out without her Balmain army in tow.

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