A First Lady in Pink, Fit to Be a Princess

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

(On the Runway)

“Fairy princess” is not a look frequently attempted by Michelle Obama, but that was the association produced by the frosted pale pink gown the first lady wore Sunday night to the Kennedy Center Honors, hosted by Stephen Colbert. (The Daily News framed this as a sartorial smackdown with the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, arriving in New York City with her husband, Prince William, for a much-ballyhooed visit.)

The dress, which featured a sweetheart neckline topped with illusion and glittery embellishment resembling icicles, was from the spring 2015 collection of designer Monique Lhuillier and was made in the United States, the brand proudly Instagrammed. From the balcony where the Obamas sat with the honorees (Al Green, Patricia McBride, Sting, Lily Tomlin and Tom Hanks), it appeared almost iridescent.

Previously for this event, Obama chose swag-sleeved green Marchesa, pleated gold Michael Kors and strapless cobalt Vera Wang. This is the first time in memory that she has gone so girlie (and with her own daughters exiting their “Frozen” years, yet) but not her first time in Lhuillier. (She wore a black, bustier-topped frock by the label to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2013.)

For a business that began in bridal, like Wang’s, placement at such a high-profile event is quite a coup, especially as stylists are beginning to squint down at their red-carpet game plans for the forthcoming Oscar season.


A Death at Balmain

Alain Hivelin, the chairman and majority owner of Balmain, the French house he helped guide from classic haute couture maison to buzzy purveyor of haute rock chic — helping to rewrite the rules of heritage luxury revivals in the process — died last week in Paris at 71. The cause of death was not disclosed.

“I will be forever grateful to Alain Hivelin (1943-2014) for his vision, his support and friendship. A great man who will be greatly missed,” the house’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing, posted.

Rousteing’s 2011 appointment — at the ripe old age of 24 — to the helm of the house Pierre Balmain founded in 1945 was but one of the counterintuitive moves made under the leadership of Hivelin that ended up rocketing the brand to success after near bankruptcy in 2004.

It followed the even more surprising decision to eschew the house’s genteel past in favor of an aesthetic about-face toward hard-edge, stud-speckled, ripped-jeans hipness under the creative director Christophe Decarnin from 2005 to 2011 that proved a surprise hit. Christened “Balmania,” Decarnin’s vision, supported by Hivelin, led to a period wherein “it” girls the world over seemed more than happy to pay $1,400 for a pair of Balmain’s crystal-bedecked destroyed denims, and other brands began to rethink the conventional industry wisdom about preserving heritage and “DNA.”

Since Rousteing took over from Decarnin, the craze has abated slightly (Rousteing having moved the brand toward a sort of glitzy 1980s revivalism), but those in search of haute cool still gravitate to Balmain, as the appearance of both Kim Kardashian and Joan Smalls in the label at this year’s Video Music Awards demonstrates.

“Alain put everything he had in Balmain. Balmain went broke, but he always believed in it and went on putting his money and courage,” Georgina Brandolini, a former manager of Balmain prêt-à-porter, wrote in a recent email. “Finally, now he was making a lot of money and was so happy.”

Now, of course, the question is: What next?

Balmain has 200 points of sale and 15 fully owned stores around the world, with plans to open a New York emporium as well as one in London in 2015. Aside from the main line, it also has licenses for a lower-priced collection, Pierre Balmain, as well as fragrances and eyewear.

Hivelin had named his “closest collaborators” to replace him at the brand’s helm, including Emmanuel Diemoz, who will become chief executive, which should ensure strategic continuity. However, the ownership question, and, with it the future of the house, remains to be answered.