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Christophe Decarnin: The Shy Guy Behind Balmain's Success

Christophe Decarnin: The Shy Guy Behind Balmain's Success

>> He's the man who brings you $1,500 Balmain cotton t-shirts — and those are the cheapest; They go up to $3,000 if you want sparkles.  Balmain is the word on everyone's lips — buyers, fans of fringed boots — and the fervor is reaching a fever pitch.

Christophe Decarnin came out of nowhere to head the house in 2005, and with every collection he does for Balmain, sales have doubled.  Cathy Horyn does a profile of the "colorless and shy" designer in the Women's Winter Fashion issue of T Magazine, examining why Balmain has been so successful in such a short time, especially when Decarnin took over the ailing house from "the fiasco of its last designer, Laurent Mercier, who liked to dress up as Jayne Mansfield and have people call him Lola."  So who and what does Decarnin, with his "French permagloom, his pale arms crossed over his white T-shirt, his black hair in greasy strands," and his "short, pathetic answers" have to thank for all the success?

The supercool girls.

"Balmain has become the label of the supercool girls . . . the girls in London and Paris who work as assistants at fashion magazines, design studios and P.R. firms, or who have some terrific family-tree connections they swing from. They’re 21 or 22 years old. Anyway, they’re crazy about clothes. Julia Restoin Roitfeld, whose mother is Carine Roitfeld, the editor of French Vogue, wears Balmain. So does Eugenia Niarchos, Olympia Scarry, Gaia Repossi, Dasha Zhukova and Charlotte Casiraghi, a daughter of Princess Caroline."

He has Vogue Paris, but not the personality. »

Vogue Paris.

"French Vogue has had a lot to do with Decarnin’s success. He says so. Balmain clothes appeared in spreads throughout the August and September issues, for instance. Roitfeld and her daughter wore Balmain to the Cannes Film Festival last May. To someone outside the magazine world, it’s as though the editors — Roitfeld and her lieutenants Emmanuelle Alt and Marie-Amélie Sauvé — have taken this relatively isolated man and molded him in the image of French Vogue."

The quintessential French quality to his clothes.

"Decarnin’s clothes are unabashedly French. If I see young Bardots and Birkins bobbing around St.-Tropez half naked, I’ve seen precisely what he wants me to see. In their cut and fit, in their energy and implacably dirty sex appeal, these clothes could not have come from anywhere else but France — and not even France but Paris."

Even those sky-high prices.

"A pair of jeans costs about $1,400, while a beaded jacket can cost $15,000. In the Balmain boutique in Paris, I admired a gorgeous black leather motorcycle jacket, free of studs and other embellishment. I blinked at the price: $7,000. At some level these kinds of prices are offensive. Decarnin said the prices reflect the quality of workmanship and fabrics, as well as the company’s limited structure. But just as hip-hop sounds triumphant about money and superstar privilege, maybe those high prices are part of the message: My stuff costs a lot."

So why has it taken so long for Christophe Decarnin to become this successful?

"‘I think success in life is half your personality and half your talent,’’ Emmanuelle Alt said. ‘‘He has the talent, but the personality. . . .’’ She smiled. ‘‘You know, if you always stay in the shadows and don’t have the connections, it’s more difficult. Some people have a lot less talent, but they push themselves and go out and meet people.’’ Decarnin said he never goes to clubs. He once went to St.-Tropez but it was years ago, he said.

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