Inside the elegant outfits designed for Her Majesty the Queen by couturier Pierre Balmain
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
Gaumont Pathé Archives
Hampton Court Palace
Louis Vuitton Malletier
Panasonic Siew Sales (Thailand)
Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya
Thanpuying Oranush Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya
Thanpuying Charungjit Teekara
Thanpuying Supornpen Luangthepnimith
Thanpuying Kenlong Snitwongse Na Ayutthaya
The late Thanpuying Karan Snitwongse Na Ayutthaya
Thanpuying Pungjit Subhamitr
Thanpuying Pharani Mahanonda
Khun Chantanee Thanarak
Khunying Uraiwan Svasdisant
Julia M. Brennan
M.R. Narisa Chakrabongse
Dale Carolyn Gluckman
The late Alain Hivelin
Elizabeth Helen Thompson