Alain Hivelin, the chairman and majority owner of Balmain, the French house he helped guide from classic haute couture maison to buzzy purveyor of haute rock chic, helping rewrite the rules of heritage luxury revivals in the process, died last week in Paris at 71. The cause of death was not disclosed.

“I will be forever grateful to Alain Hivelin (1943-2014) for his vision, his support and friendship. A great man who will be greatly missed,” posted the house’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing.

Mr. Rousteing’s 2011 appointment — at the ripe old age of 24 — at the helm of the house Pierre Balmain founded in 1945 was but one of the counterintuitive moves made under the leadership of Mr. Hivelin that ended up rocketing the brand to success after its near-bankruptcy in 2004.

It followed the even more surprising decision to eschew the house’s genteel past in favor of an aesthetic about-face toward hard-edged, stud-speckled, ripped-jean hipness under the creative director Christophe Decarnin (2005-11) that proved a surprise hit. Christened “Balmania,” Mr. Decarnin’s vision, supported by Mr. Hivelin, led to a period wherein “It” girls the world over seemed more than happy to pay $1,400 for a pair of Balmain’s crystal-bedecked destroyed denims, and other brands began to rethink the conventional industry wisdom about preserving heritage and “DNA.”

Since Mr. Rousteing took over from Mr. Decarnin, the craze has abated slightly (Mr. Rousteing having moved the brand toward a sort of glitzy 1980s-revivalism), but those in search of haute cool still gravitate to Balmain, as the appearance of both Kim Kardashian and Joan Smalls in the label at this year’s VMAs demonstrates.

“Alain put everything he had in Balmain. Balmain went broke but he always believed in it and went on putting his money and courage,” said Georgina Brandolini, a former manager of Balmain pret-a-porter, in a recent email. ” Finally now he was making a lot of money and was so happy …. he was an extremely generous and faithful friend. This is very sad.”

Now, of course, the question is what next?

Balmain has 200 points of sale and 15 fully owned stores around the world, with plans to open a New York emporium as well as one in London in 2015. Aside from the main line, it also has licenses for a lower-priced collection, Pierre Balmain, as well as fragrances and eyewear.

According to a spokeswoman, as “Mr. Hivelin’s shares in the house form part of his estate, we will not be able to communicate on the distribution of those assets until after his last will and testament has been read. This should happen within the next few days.”

Mr. Hivelin had named his “closest collaborators” to replace him at the helm of the brand, with Jean-François Deheq becoming chairman and Emmanuel Diemoz chief executive, which should ensure strategic continuity. However, the ownership question, and with it the future of the house, remains to be answered.

 

Story Credit: Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times
Photo Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images