PARIS — Alain Hivelin, the majority owner of Balmain and the architect of its rejuvenation and global expansion, was remembered as a courageous, kind-hearted entrepreneur.
He died on Thursday in a Paris hospital following a sudden illness at the age of 71. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Services are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today at Père-Lachaise Cemetery here.
While a discreet presence on the Paris scene, Hivelin was gregarious and often emotional in private: enthralled by the creativity behind fashion, grateful for success when business was good, sanguine and philosophical when it was not.
He forged strong rapports with a string of designers, notably its last couturier, Oscar de la Renta, who died in October; Christophe Decarnin, who from 2005 to 2011 heated up the brand with audacious, hot-blooded fashions despite his painfully shy demeanor; and Olivier Rousteing, a key Decarnin deputy named Balmain’s creative director in 2011 at the age of 24.
Rousteing, recently named one of the 50 most influential French people in the world by the French edition of Vanity Fair, said Hivelin was one of the first people to offer congratulations, declaring: “Bravo!”
“He was a real friend to me,” Rousteing said, praising his daring to install such a young designer, leaving him free to express his creativity.
“He was really supportive as a person and as a president. He always encouraged me and pushed me to be better and better every day. He was such an emotional and sensitive person and that’s what I love about him,” Rousteing said. “He always had this vision of a French house that could become international, and he transformed it into a new-generation house.”
The designer noted that Hivelin cultivated a familial atmosphere in the house and believed that “the success of a house is when you know the names of all your employees.”
Hivelin leaves behind a company on a strong growth track, with Rousteing citing a London boutique opening scheduled for January and a New York flagship slated to open over the next year or so. He also hinted at new perfume and eyewear projects.
Hivelin had quietly relinquished his role as chairman of Balmain SA, and handed responsibilities to the senior management in place, with Jean-François Dehecq, honorary president of Sanofi, as chairman and Emmanuel Diemoz as chief executive officer in charge of day-to-day operations.
Born in Morocco, Hivelin joined Balmain in 1995 as general manager of couture, quickly becoming president of a group encompassing fashion, fragrances and accessories.
He piloted the house, founded in 1945, through periods of designer turmoil — Gilles Dufour, Andrew Gn, Christophe Lebourg and Laurent Mercier logged brief tenures — and a receivership filing in 2004, proud that he was able to pay back all debts years ahead of schedule.
Whittled down to about 14 employees around that time, the company today employs 140 people and exports its fashions and fragrances to some 60 countries.
Georgina Brandolini, who spent four years as managing director of Balmain during the de la Renta era, lauded Hivelin’s courage and conviction to rebuild and reinvent Balmain.
“He was a very faithful person, extremely generous and very creative. He really started from scratch when Balmain went broke, he was very courageous,” Brandolini said. “The last time I saw him, a few months ago, he told me the business was booming and he was very happy about it.”
Hivelin entered the luxury world via packaging, taking the helm of French firm Saillard in 1980 and leading a management buyout. He also worked at porcelain maker Limoges and Haviland before joining Balmain.
He is survived by his wife, Fanou Aherdan-Hivelin, three daughters from a previous marriage — Marie-Chantal, Emmanuelle and Paola — plus grandchildren Thomas, Myriam and Ingrid.