ICOM International Committee for Museums and Collections of Costume, Fashion and Textiles

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June 22, 2020

Rediscovering the Balmain archives: challenges of a valuation strategy

As 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the House of Balmain, new steps are underway to manage and value their archives and establish a heritage department. Julia Guillon, heritage and archives consultant at Balmain is presenting a talk on zoom for Costume General Assembly, on Tuesday 30th June.

The history of Balmain is illustrated through its graphic archives with a collection of Haute Couture drawings ranging from 1948 to 2003 (estimated at 12,000), and press and runway photographs covering haute couture and ready-to-wear (estimated at 15,000, though incomplete for the historical period). Additional photographs provide a more personal insight in to the career of Pierre Balmain, including his numerous travels (especially in the Orient), and document the principal clientele of the house including celebrity, royalty and aristocracy. These documents have been partially compiled, probably at the time of the Balmain retrospective curated by Guillaume Garnier at the Musée Galliera in 1985, whose catalog remains a valuable reference. This resource is supplemented by extensive research published by the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Bangkok (“Her Majesty’s Queen Sirikit’s creations by Balmain”) in 2016.

The Balmain graphic archives were partially digitalized and inventoried internally between 2009 and 2014, offering a useful base for in-house research. Finally, the archives also include press books, press releases and some documented conferences given by Pierre Balmain, along with 220 runway videos. The current strategy aims to develop a heritage database to manage the collections and centralise historic sources through continued inventory, digitalization and documentation of exhibition loans and reproductions.

Regarding Haute Couture garments, while a specific archiving process does not seem to have existed at the time of Monsieur Balmain, the house still keeps a comprehensive collection of about 1,200 Haute Couture pieces and 200 hats, mostly from 1982 to 2003. These include designs by Pierre Balmain, Erik Mortensen, Oscar de la Renta, Hervé Pierre and Laurent Mercier. These items are especially representative of the house’s savoir-faire, luxurious materials and embroideries.

With the appointment of Olivier Rousteing as Artistic Director in 2011, Balmain has been archiving a rich repository of contemporary ready-to-wear.

Since January 2020, contacts have been initiated with about 40 museums, and over 800 Balmain garments have already been located in public collections worldwide. The rediscovery of these Balmain archives opens challenging possibilities to share knowledge about the history and value of the Balmain heritage.


Biography – Julia Guillon:

A graduate of the Ecole du Louvre (Art History and Museology) and the Art Market Master’s Degree of Paris 1-Panthéon-Sorbonne, Julia Guillon has specialised in archive management and valuation of luxury houses for ten years, establishing archive departments for both Rochas and Givenchy. In 2018 she was appointed consulting specialist for fashion collections auctions at Sotheby’s, further developing connections with museums and institutions worldwide. Since 2020 she is the heritage and archives consultant for Balmain.

Image: ©Archives Balmain Paris