Fit For a Queen: Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s Wardrobe Created by Pierre Balmain 

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

Inside the elegant outfits designed for Her Majesty the Queen by couturier Pierre Balmain

Fit For a Queen: Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s Wardrobe Created by Pierre Balmain 
In honor of the auspicious occasion of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s 7th cycle birthday anniversary on August 12, 2016, the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles mounts Fit For A Queen, a new exhibition that focuses on the 22-year-long working relationship between Her Majesty and French couturier Pierre Balmain. The exhibition will run from August 4, 2016 through June 2018. The exhibition offer visitors the chance to view more than 30 of Her Majesty’s most stylish daytime, cocktail, and evening dresses, plus related accessories and several pieces of the luggage custom-made by Louis Vuitton for Their Majesties, most of these have never before been on display.  
Why did Her Majesty Queen Sirikit engage a foreign designer to create Her wardrobe?
In 1960, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej  and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit embarked on a historic state visit to 15 Western nations. The tour was the West’s formal introduction to the youthful royal couple. Her Majesty had determined that She would need a fashionable, seasonally appropriate Western wardrobe for the six-month-long tour, and She engaged renowned Paris couturier Pierre Balmain to design it. 

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and Balmain

Balmain designed for Her Majesty a wardrobe of daytime, cocktail, and evening dresses and outerwear to suit virtually every occasion. He knew the special considerations shaping the Queen’s choices and framed his proposals accordingly: Her dresses must carry the stamp of enduring elegance, and guard against the risk of becoming antiquated.

Many of his signature designs flourished: jackets and dresses with small ties across front or back, obi-like sashes wrapped around the waist, draped effects at hips and waist, the lavish use of bows, and large silk flowers on lapels or bodices.

As well as designing and making Her Majesty’s dresses, Balmain was charged with coordinating the choice and purchase of all her accessories, for which he worked closely with both internal and external sources. Her Majesty’s hats were provided by Balmain’s in-house millinery department, and were usually coordinated with specific ensembles. The fur coats, stoles, and trim in mink, chinchilla, and broadtail, needed for fall and winter in Europe, were also made in-house by furrier Claude Wittelson.

Pierre Balmain

Pierre Balmain was born in 1914. He abandoned his studies in architecture to pursue his lifelong interest in fashion design. His apprenticeship in couture began in 1934, when he was hired as a junior designer by couturier Edward Molyneux, who was then at the height of his career and a leading exemplar of the sleek, elegant, and tasteful aesthetic of the 1930s. Balmain trained for four years with Molyneux. His own assessment was that Molyneux had inspired him with a lasting fondness for the color beige and “a horror of gaudy details.”

Balmain then went on to work as designer with Lucien Lelong. More an editor than a designer, Lelong employed Christian Dior and Balmain to design the house collections.

By the end of World War II, Balmain was ready to strike out on his own. He found a premise at 44 rue François 1er in the fashionable 8th Arrondissement (still the company’s headquarters) and showed a modest first collection on 12 October 1945, “based on the theme of luxury combined with simplicity, and a slight touch of the East”—a concept that could be applied to much of what he later designed for Her Majesty.

Balmain’s palette that season emphasized yellows; browns; grays; clear red; several shades of blue; and white and black, either alone or in combination. A wide variety of patterns appears, including polka dots, a favorite of Balmain’s.

Thai national dress

Balmain, along with François Lesage, who had provided the embroidery for Her Majesty’s formal clothes, remained closely involved with the development of H.M. the Queen’s style.

Balmain designed the Western-style clothes for Her Majesty’s continued international travels, and he and Lesage soon began to make Her Thai national dress as well.

Beginning early in the 1970s, Balmain and Lesage’s work extended to developing strategies to transform Thai villagde silks into fashionable Western attire, which was worn by Her Majesty promote the work of Her SUPPORT Foundation.

Her Majesty and Balmain mostly chose clean lines for daywear, an approach that suited the Queen’s small, slim figure well.

Jewel-toned suits

A favorite of Her Majesty

Following the formula of matching solid-color skirt and jacket with a patterned top this orange suit features a blouse with a self-tie at the neckline. It was a favorite of Her Majesty.

Balmain signature design

The blouse’s tie fastenings are Balmain design signatures.

A striking ensemble

The jacket of this striking ensemble is open at center back from shoulder blade to hem, offering glimpses of the fitted dress beneath when the wearer moves.

Cocktail Dresses
Her majesty’s cocktail dresses were usually, though not always, executed in more subdued colors than her day dresses and showed both slender and bouffant silhouettes

Cocktail dress, 1960

Balmain combined details from several of the bouffant cocktail dresses in his regular spring 1960 collection to make this unique version for Her Majesty.

Interestingly, Balmain featured a strikingly similar dress in his spring 1963 collection, suggesting that the custom designs he developed for Her Majesty inspired his regular collections as well.

Cocktail dress, 1960

This dress was designed in spring to be worn in New York under an orange Thai silk evening coat that does not survive. Her Majesty also wore it in France beneath a white mink jacket.

The dress is made of silk crepe with silk- and metal-thread, bead and straw embroidery. The illustrator Tod Draz created a sketch featuring this dress which was published in a New York Times, and highligted Her Majesty’s impeccable style.

Cocktail dress, ca. 1961

Silk georgette and crepe under cotton lace with
bead embroidery by House of Lesage. It has a silk satin sash.

Lace was a popular material for cocktail and evening wear in the early and mid-1960s and Her Majesty wore it often, in both plain and heavily embellished versions.

Cocktail dress, 1961

The “fringe” decorating this shimmering dress was made from strips of satin applied individually to the neckline and waist of a fitted sheath.

In spring 1961, Balmain used the same technique on similar dresses in a variety of colors and styles—strapless and bias-cut dresses, and a top for evening trousers. There were eight variations in all.

Cocktail dress, 1964

The deeply textured embroidery decorating this simple sheath depicts stylized, Thai-inflected floral motifs arranged in a manner reminiscent of 18th-century French brocades.

This combination of Thai and European design influences is typical of Balmain and Lesage’s work for Her Majesty.

Cocktail dress, 1967

Her Majesty chose many garments from Balmain’s regular collections during the early 1960s, more and more of Her wardrobe was custom-designed as the decade progressed.

This dress, which is more extensively embroidered than the runway model, appears to be the only one from Balmain’s regular spring 1967 collection that HM the Queen selected.

Evening Dresses
Balmain made several Western style evening dresses for Her Majesty from the modern Thai silk combined with Western textiles.

Evening dress, 1960

This dress shows Balmain’s love of 18th-century European modes and decoration in the style and placement of the scrolling embroidery and the gown’s wide-skirted silhouette.

Evening dress, 1960

Made of Lesage-embellished French lace, this gown was worn on the 1960 tour to banquets, the theater, and other formal events in Belgium, Germany, Norway and Spain and later in Thailand.

Evening dress, 1960

Silk and metal-thread brocade (phaa yok) and Thai silk. Although Her Majesty often chose to wear Thai national dress for formal evening events on tour, Balmain also made several Western-style evening dresses for Her from the same traditional Thai court brocades used in Her national dress.

Evening dress, 1960

Although Her Majesty often chose to wear Thai national dress for formal evening events on tour, Balmain also made several Western-style evening dresses for Her from the same traditional Thai court brocades used in Her national dress. This dress is a Phaa Yok with silk and metal-thread brocade.

Evening Dress, Marly, 1962

A featured gown from Balmain’s spring 1962 collection, Marly was pictured in fashion magazines and modeled in several newsreels, one of which is on view in the adjacent gallery. Her Majesty took it on a state visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1962 and wore it at home until at least 1966.

Evening dress, 1963

Her Majesty first wore this simply cut, shimmering gown in Tokyo in May 1963, during a state visit to Japan. The occasion was a banquet given in Their Majesties’ honor by Emperor Hirohito.

Evening dress, 1969

The inventive embroidery Lesage designed for the dress’s bodice and dramatic sleeves is a jigsaw puzzle of irregular pieces of brilliantly colored plastic flanked with flashing sequins and beads. From a distance, the e�ffect is of a stained glass window.

Balmain made at least one other example of this model, which indicates that it was from his regular collection, and thus not exclusive to Her Majesty.

Thai National and SUPPORT Silk Dress
Balmain and Lesage brought several variations to the eight styles of Thai national dress established by Her Majesty in the early 1960s.

Evening Dress in Thai National Style, 1964

Bodice of Thai silk with sequin embroider. Skirt of silk and gold-meta thread brocade (phaa yok). Balmain and Lesage began making Her Majesty’s Thai national dress around 1963, bringing several variations to the styles established for the 1960 tour. This one, commissioned for an official visit to Austria, adds solid-color Thai silk to the usual brocade, plus a second trailing shoulder cloth and flat, sequin embroidery.

Evening Dress in Thai National Style, 1967

Jacquard-woven silk and metal-thread brocade with crystal, bead, paillette, and silver-metal thread embroidery for an official trip to Iran in April 1967.

This mandarin-collared, sleeveless variation on Thai national dress is made from a European silk and metal-thread brocade completely concealed beneath a layer of Lesage’s characteristically complex embroidery.

Day Dress, 1972

This simple dress is charming, but lacks Balmain’s usual masterly touches.

It may represent one of his first attempts to work with the northeastern Thai village ikat that became a signature fabric for Her Majesty, when he was just beginning to explore the fabric’s design potential.

Evening dress, 1979

Her Majesty continued to collaborate with the House of Balmain. This dress is made of ilk ikat (mat mii) with bead, sequin, crystal, and silk floss embroidery.


Her Majesty’s favourites

Many of Her Majesty’s hats were pillboxes, a brimless, a deep-crowned style that sat either atop the head or perched at the back of the crown. Among Her Majesty’s favourites were draped, turban-styled hats, two of which are pictured here.


Most were either small pillboxes or turban; larger hats were worn tilted back in order to reveal, rather than conceal, Her Majesty's face.

Hats were still considered a necessary element of a Western royal wardrobe

Maison Balmain's in house millinery department made them for most or all of the daytime attire that HM the Queen worn in the West during this decade. Many of those hats matched specific ensembles.


Top Parisian shoemaker

Top Parisian shoemaker Rene Mancini specialized in handmade footwear for private clients and a number of couturiers. It is likely that it was Balmain, charged with commissioning Her Majesty's accessories for the 1960 tour wardrobe, who selected him initially as HM Queen Sirikit's shoemaker.

Evening shoes

For evening, HM the Queen was especially fond of the metallic leather pumps with upturned, Asian-style toes that were fashionable in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The exhibition 'Fit For A Queen: Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s Creations by Balmain'' will run through to June 2018. The museum is located inside the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok.

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Credits: Story

Thanks to the following organizations and individuals
for their assistance in the creation of this exhibition

Bureau of the Royal Household
Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary
Office of Her Majesty’s Private Secretary
Crown Property Bureau
Royal Thai Embassies in Bern, the Hague, London, Paris, and Rome
Suan Luang Rama IX Foundation
Pierre Balmain S.A.
49 Lighting Design Consultants Limited
Bangkok Post
British Pathé
CIDI Chanapatana
Condé Nast
Das Bundesarchiv
Final Cut
Gaumont Pathé Archives
Getty Images
Hampton Court Palace
Louis Vuitton Malletier
Ovation Studio
Panasonic Siew Sales (Thailand)
Pacific Intercommunication
River Books
Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya
Thanpuying Oranush Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya
Thanpuying Charungjit Teekara
Thanpuying Supornpen Luangthepnimith
Jaranthada Karnasuta
Karoon Chandrangsu
Opas Sayasevi
Thanpuying Kenlong Snitwongse Na Ayutthaya
The late Thanpuying Karan Snitwongse Na Ayutthaya
Thanpuying Pungjit Subhamitr
Thanpuying Pharani Mahanonda
Khun Chantanee Thanarak
Khunying Uraiwan Svasdisant
Kim Atkinson
Hubert Barrère
Delphine Berthier
Julia M. Brennan
M.R. Narisa Chakrabongse
Peter Cope
Khon Darath
Gridthiya Gaweewong
Dale Carolyn Gluckman
The late Alain Hivelin
Lauren Klamm
Narongkorn Laosrisin
Kullawit Laosuksri
Florence Lesché
Bleue-Marine Massard
Ruetairat Nanta
Paisarn Piammattawat
Wisit Potiwat
Nat Prakobsantisuk
Sivika Prakobsantisukh
Kanlayarat Prasertboon
Prow Puttorngul
Scott Robinson
Armpaeng Saeai
Amy Sarabi
Parichat Saengsirikulchai
Bianca Scheer
Loubia Simon
Jirat Subpisankul
Elizabeth Helen Thompson
Tirapan Vanarat
Marie Wurry
Nita Yuvaboon

Credits: All media
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