A Belted Waist, Balmain’s Emblematic Touch

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Unlike many in the fashion realm, Pierre Balmain developed style as a way of life very early on. Balmain wanted this way of life to be far from the type of femininity and restrictions imposed by WWII. Paris became a moving feast once more with salons and balls aplenty, and haute couture became the incarnation of the French spirit. A trained architect taking inspiration from the most ancient arts in humanity, primarily arabesques, Pierre Balmain instated a new fashion vocabulary that was graphic and singular, sensual and imposing. Balmain always started with a cinched waist, often belted, with embroideries ensuring for a sumptuous look. From 1952 on, this obsession for highlighting the waist earned Balmain and his successors the admiration of the press, buyers, and even other couturiers. He was convinced that the main points in fashion for a gracious, elegant, and powerful silhouette were stature and a cinched waist. Christian Dior’s New Look was also born at this same time.

Balmain’s success was such that in 1954 the annual production of their Parisian ateliers reached 3,000 styles. Pierre Balmain, often called “the youngest of the greats”, was once described his Spring/Summer collection on French television: “ […] The main points in spring fashion are amplitude and a cinched waist. I thought to achieve these objectives by making enormous use of pleats, by putting leather belts on almost all the styles, and I want to describe what will be the silhouette that I’m offering for spring 1965. I can say that with short and curly hair, hats are worn straight on and slightly backwards […] With the waist very cinched by a belt, the skirts are very ample.” A getup was for him the result of an architectural project, a gradual process of elimination of the superfluous. What he wanted was to make women dance in summer gardens. Evening dresses thus became very thin, very straight, with a very marked waist. The shoulders were also important and often enlarged by draping fabrics.

Christophe Decarnin’s work and more recently that of Olivier Rousteing is done within the founder’s legacy as well. The waist finds its place: thin and natural. In his Fall/Winter 2014 collection, Olivier Rousteing projects the new cinched waist for Balmain with cargo pants that have a very couture allure. The runway for the Spring/Summer 2017 season was also the occasion to highlight a project within Balmain’s heritage that’s a bit different. When Rousteing’s glamazons take off to explore the jungle, their waist is always marked like armor, as they present themselves in creation with sensual cutouts and a dressed down allure that still remains modest. This is a way to update the founder’s mantra, who practiced couture as “the architecture of movement”.

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