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Balmain Sees Further Growth From Asia

In a rare interview, ceo Alain Hivelin discussed the latest developments for the privately held, debt-free company.

PARIS — Balmain is opening up to the world.

This story first appeared in the September 29, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Today, the high-flying Paris house will parade a Las Vegas-inspired collection here by its new designer, Olivier Rousteing ­— and it will close out 2011 with a string of new boutiques dotted across Asia, including six in China.

In a rare interview, Balmain chief executive officer Alain Hivelin discussed the latest developments for the privately held, debt-free company, which continues to post revenue growth in excess of 50 percent annually, something it’s done for the past five years.

In Tokyo last week for the opening of a boutique in Ginza in partnership with Bluebell Japan Ltd., Hivelin flicked through an iPad to show off images of other recently opened Asian units, including boutiques in Shanghai’s IFC, Beijing’s Sanlitun Village and at the Plaza 66 in Jinan.

He estimates that China will account for 6 to 8 percent of Balmain revenues in the next year, saying “the first sales figures are encouraging.”

While still wholesale driven, Balmain should end 2011 with 11 freestanding stores worldwide and six shops-in-shop. A Manhattan flagship ranks among future priorities, Hivelin noted.

The retail developments come in tandem with new deals for eyewear with L’Amy Group starting this spring and fragrances with Inter Parfums SA effective Jan. 1.

Balmain also closed the order books on the first season for its Pierre Balmain second line under license with Italy’s Ittierre SpA. First deliveries are expected in November to some 700 doors, ahead of sales targets, Hivelin said.

The fashion house underwent a jolt last March when its designer since 2005, Christophe Decarnin — who catapulted its notoriety with thigh-skimming dresses, strong-shouldered jackets and astronomically expensive destroyed T-shirts — was absent from its runway show under doctor’s orders.

Hivelin expressed regret over Decarnin’s departure due to health problems. “We had a fantastic working relationship. He’s a very professional man. I respect him. I like him,” Hivelin said. “In our industry, the pressure is very heavy, because you have to deliver every season…something that corresponds to the expectations of our customers, of the media, of everyone.”

That said, Hivelin lauded Rousteing and 13 other young international talents in the house’s design studios. He noted that orders for the pre-collection under Rousteing’s design purview jumped 25 percent.

“Olivier is fresh, he’s young, full of talent, very hardworking,” the executive enthused. “He has so much potential.”

A key deputy of Decarnin at Balmain since 2009, Rousteing, 26, previously worked for Roberto Cavalli for five years.

During a preview, Rousteing said the brand would continue down its rock ’n’ roll path with audacious, body-conscious designs and elaborate embroideries that can drive retail prices into the five figures. But he said he would leave behind the hole-ridden T-shirts and other grunge aspects, ramping up the “sophistication and couture feeling.”

Rousteing said he would not work with a stylist, but noted that Emmanuelle Alt, the editor in chief of French Vogue, who had collaborated with Decarnin, remains an inspirational muse.

“She’s relaxed and at the same time, superglamorous,” he enthused.