Satin Duchesse decorated with ribbon
Museum no. T.49-1974
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Given by Lady Elizabeth von Hofmannsthal
'Technical perfection', said Pierre Balmain, 'is not enough. To be a couturier means offering women a certain standard of excellents. The most difficult thing is not to be extravagant, but to know when to stop.' Balmain maintained that 'the basic job of a couturier ... is to dress women for everyday living' ('My Years and Seasons', 1964). For his clientele, normal life often involved numerous grand evening occasions and Balmain is perhaps best known for the lavish ballgowns he created for these events. The vertically looped ribbon decoration and the full, long skirt of this dress were inspired by 18th and 19th century garments.
The dress was worn by Lady Elizabeth von Hofmannsthal and forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection. This collection was brought together by the society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). With great energy and determination, Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and North America to help create this lasting monument to the art of dress. The collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue that detailed its enormous range.