Tag Archives: Balmain

Dior, Balmain, Saint Laurent:

Yesterday I went to Charlotte for a new vintage market (more about that later) and took the opportunity to see the latest fashion exhibition at the Mint Museum of Art. The Mint is one of my favorite museums.  They started collecting fashion the early 1970s, and today the collection numbers over 10,o0o objects.  I love that they have three galleries devoted to fashion and so you can visit anytime to see part of the collection.

The latest exhibition is devoted to three French masters – Dior, Balmain and Saint Laurent, with all the garments coming from the Mint’s permanent collection. It highlights the strengths of each with examples from not only the founders of each house, but also their successors.

This dress was designed by Christian Dior, labeled circa 1948.  It is actually a blouse and skirt, and is simply stunning.  I loved the glint of gold embroidered over the lace.

When Christian Dior died in 1958, a young Yves Saint Laurent was given the job of designer at Dior.   He was replaced by Marc Bohan in 1960, who designed this early 1960s suit.

Bohan was the designer of this plaid coat in the late 1960s.

The dress on the left is by Bohan for Dior, circa 1969.  The suit on the right is by Bohan’s successor, Gianfranco Ferre.

On the left is a cocktail dress by Bohan for Dior.  In the background is an evening ensemble by John Galliano for Dior.  Galliano was made the designer at Dior in 1997, and was fired in disgrace in 2011.  I was glad to see this example by Galliano.  There are many examples of designers who have exhibited despicable behavior (Chanel, anyone) but the importance of some, like Galliano, cannot be ignored.

Pierre Balmain opened his house in 1945.  His clothing often had a sculptural quality.  The suit above is from the mid 1950s.

When I came to this dress, I’ll admit, my first thought was a bit of a whine, “But I can’t see the bodice!”  But then, it morphed into, “Why the heck did they cover the bodice?”  That thought was even louder at the next dress:

I’m not a curator, and I have no museum or exhibition training, but I do know what I want to see in an exhibition.  Here we have two Balmain dresses, neither of which shows the bodice.   It’s like seeing only the bottom half of a painting!

Then it began to dawn on me that some of the garments in the exhibition were over accessorized.  These are the two biggest examples, but many of the garments were overshadowed by the styling.  I’m a person who actually likes seeing appropriate accessories with garments.  It adds to one’s understanding of how a garment was actually worn.  But when you can’t see the dress for the accouterments, then it’s time to follow the advice of Coco Chanel and remove the last accessory you put on.

So sorry about the fuzzy photo, but I just loved this great mid 1960s suit by Balmain.  Again, I have to say I found the strong accessories to be a bit distracting.

On the other hand, visitors are treated to what is often a hidden delight of couture – the interior of a garment.  In this case, we get a glimpse of the lining and trim of a coat by Oscar de la Renta, who designed couture for the House of Balmain from 1993 to 2002.

This stunning coat was designed by Christophe Decarnin, the designer at Balmain from 2002 to 2011.  Because of all the fur pieces used throughout the exhibition, I really could not tell if the fur around the neck is a part of the coat, or just an accessory.  It does seem to match the cuffs.

And finally, we get to Yves Saint Laurent.  Saint Laurent opened in 1962.  The jacket and skirt above are a great example of the beautiful ethnic-inspired clothing he designed throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Saint Laurent retired in 2002 and his couture atelier was closed.   His ready-to-wear line,  Rive Gauche, continued to be produced under the direction of Tom Ford, who designed the suits on the left and in the center.  The suit on the left (ignore distracting scarf)  is an homage to Saint Laurent’s Safari suits of the late 1960s.  The suit on the right was designed by Stefano Pilati, designer from 2004 through 2012.  Thankfully, there were no examples from the rebranded Saint Laurent Paris designer, Hedi Slimane.

I like that most of the garments are placed so that you can see them from both front and back.  I also love that you can get up-close to examine the details.  If you are ever in Charlotte, NC, the Mint is well worth the $10 admission price, especially while their excellent Fashionable Silhouettes in on view.



Filed under Museums

The Adaptation Label

Earlier this week I happened on a little antique mall in an unpromising location, but I threw on the brakes, did a U-turn and entered hopefully. I was immediately rewarded by the presence of hats – many vintage hats stacked, hung and perched throughout the store. One of the most promising turned out to have a Dior label, and, a $250 price tag! But as I went through the inventory, I noticed that most of them were much more modestly priced, in the under $10 range.

And that’s when I came across this pretty green satin beret. I turned it over, and all I saw was Pierre Balmain. But my thumb caught on a turned under corner, and the words “Adaptation of” were exposed.

So what exactly is an adaptation? These labels go back at least to the 1920s when Paris fashion ruled supreme.  A couture house like Chanel or Lanvin did only made-to-order clothing; there was no ready-to-wear.  However, couture houses would sell styles to American businesses like Bergdorf Goodman and Hattie Carnegie, who would then make high quality reproductions of the styles they had purchased.  But they were not the only purchasers.  Even a mass merchandiser like Sears would buy a style or a “toile” which was basically a muslin pattern of a style.

This gave the makers the right to use an adaptation label.  Sometimes the styles were adapted to meet the needs of American buyers, and sometimes they were faithfully reproduced.  I’ve seen adaptation labels in dresses, and also in hats.

Why would a couturier agree to such an arrangement?  Because then – as now – copying was a major problem.  The great lengths that the copy houses would go to in order to steal the most popular designs is well chronicled in designer Elizabeth Hawes’ 1938 book, Fashion is Spinach.  I suppose the designers realized it was better to sell the styles rather than to have them all stolen anyway.  That way they did get partial compensation.

The latest adaptation labels I’ve seen are from the late 1950s, or early 60s. By then, the labels often read “Reproduction of”.  So why did the system of selling toiles and styles to reproduce end?  My guess is that it was the realization by couturiers that  they could manufacture their own ready-to-wear and make more profits that way.  By the 1960s, most couturiers were producing a boutique line of ready-to-wear.  They might have licensing agreements in the manner of Pierre Cardin, but these were not in any way related to the designs produced by the couturier.

Here is another adaptation label.  It is from the house of Mad Carpentier and was made in the late 1940s by American mass producer Puritan.  The dress it came from is totally trashed, but I paid $5 for it anyway because in six years of collecting labels for the VFG Label Resource, it is the only label of any kind from Mad Carpentier that I’ve ever seen.


Filed under Collecting, Designers, Vintage Clothing