Canadian Fashion Connection – Erich Fayer and Balmain

During his lifetime Canadian financer Erich Fayer was a bit of a mystery man. He was rarely interviewed and never talked about his past. Only after his death did it become known that Fayer was a Polish-born Jewish refugee who came to Canada in the early 1970s by way of Panama. Where or how Fayer made his money was never clear, but his Montreal-based company, Produits Parfums et Cosmetiques Universels, had many assets in its holdings including a $50-million Montreal shopping centre. In July 1986 Fayer bought the Paris fashion house of Balmain with an eye to resurrecting the label’s prestige – the way Lagerfeld had resurrected Chanel in 1983.

Balmain had been one of Paris’ leading fashion ateliers when it was founded in 1946 by its namesake Pierre Balmain. However, it lost its lustre over the years, especially after Pierre’s death in 1982 when Balmain’s life partner and business assistant, Erik Mortensen, became the house designer. While Mortensen kept loyal clients happy he failed to make waves in the fashion press. 

Fayer diversified production into a line of luxury products including accessories and perfume, and bought back the rights to the original Balmain perfumes that had been sold to Revlon in the early 1960s. By 1987 he had cancelled licensing agreements with companies that were churning out Balmain designs using second-rate craftsmanship, damaging the Balmain image. Fayer bought d’Ana Cote d’Azure, a high-end clothing manufacturer in the south of France to produce all of the Balmain lines including Balmain Ivoire, a luxury ready-to-wear line created with the American market in mind (see video below of Fall 1989 Balmain Ivoire fashion show.)

Instead of contracting out ready-to-wear collections to lesser designers for the growing ‘fastwear’ market (as it was called in 1987), Balmain’s ready-to-wear collections were now designed under Mortensen to retain an elite, upscale chic that would be sold for 25% – 30% more than ready-to-wear had been previously priced. Twenty-two year old Hervé Pierre was hired to assist Mortensen with the increased designing responsibilities.

The influx of new ideas and capital re-invigorated the house of Balmain and ushered in an era of foreign capital investments into long-standing Paris fashion houses. However, everything wasn’t working smoothly behind the scenes at Balmain. In March 1990 Alistair Blair was hired to design the Balmain Ivoire luxury ready-to-wear collection, allowing Mortensen to devote his work exclusively to the couture collection. 

That same year, Fayer sold Balmain to Alain Chevalier, a French financer from the Louis Vuitton group, only to buy it back a year later in June 1991 at a greatly reduced price. Mortensen however, was no longer with Balmain when the company was purchased back. Hervé Pierre had been made in charge of creating Balmain’s couture collections for 1991 and spring 1992. 

Fayer then brought on board Oscar de la Renta as Balmain’s lead designer in early 1992. De la Renta, who had established himself in New York in 1966 and had only shown his own collection in Paris for the first time in March 1991, became the first American designer to take over at a Paris fashion house. He remained at Balmain until 2002. 

Erich Fayer died in Brussels on April 6, 1995 from a heart attack.

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