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Christophe Decarnin Out at Balmain, and Not Just Because of His Show Absence

>> Christophe Decarnin, who joined Balmain as a designer in 2005 and was named creative director of women's ready-to-wear in November 2007, has left the brand, effective immediately. A successor — an internal candidate is reportedly the frontrunner — is expected to be named next week.

Stylist Melanie Ward, who helped pull together the Fall 2011 collection under Decarnin's directives starting three weeks before the show, is Cathy Horyn's suggestion for successor. She has the experience: she was creative director of Helmut Lang for 13 years, when the namesake designer was still at that label.

Decarnin's exit is not a surprise, given his absence from the Fall 2011 show, due to doctor's orders after seeking treatment for depression. However, WWD reports that sources close to the designer say the state of Decarnin's mental health was overblown. A Balmain rep corroborates that the designer's depression wasn't the cause of his exit, saying this morning that Decarnin's absence from the show "is not the reason, but everything is related" and instead citing "work differences . . . that I cannot comment on."

Tensions between Decarnin and Balmain chairman and CEO Alain Hivelin had reached a breaking point by the time of the show, WWD reports, with each man holding widely divergent views of company strategy and direction. Hivelin cited a desire to keep a tight rein on distribution of the top line, which has had sales growth in excess of 50 percent in recent years, but was also quietly testing future avenues of growth for the brand — including a less-expensive line, Balmain Blue, that reportedly irked Decarnin and was never brought to market.

With Decarnin gone, it looks like that line may be brought back in some form: Ittierre, which produces diffusion collections like C’N’C Costume National and Just Cavalli (as well as Galliano), has reportedly secured a license with Balmain, although both companies have remained mum on the subject.

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