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PARIS Spring 2004

Pierre Balmain Couture chose a small, intimate space in the lower level of the Musée d'Art Moderne for the début collection of newly appointed Artistic Director Chrisophe Lebourg.

In a sign of how much was riding on a single collection, the show was wishfully entitled "Balmain Beautiful." After the topsy-turvy period that saw the departure of both Oscar de la Renta and his successor Laurent Mercier, the House was determined to get it right this time.

After an opening series of charming little black and white dresses, sensuously molding the silhouette or split at the side, it was clear that things had dramatically changed course from the sometimes antiquated and fussy designs shown by Mercier the past two seasons.

The lightness of modernity was perhaps thetheme that most clearly permeated Lebourg's work for this breezy summertime collection.

Tops were lit with electric pink, mustard yellow and cool melon, draped in asymmetrical forms and cut with contemporary jagged edges. Evening gowns of lilac, paprika and pumpkin were constructed of triangular sails, some overlaid, some sliced with slits, and others draped as fluttering togas.

Sharply tailored suits and skirts, or even tux-style slacks threaded with satin stripes down the front, gave lots of solid choices destined to move from store shelves.

Looking through the entire collection, with not a print in sight, each piece worked. If at times Lebourg erred on the side of safety,

then undoubtedly that word has been whispered quite loudly in his ear.

Balmain is currently expanding, having recently acquired a Thierry Mugler factory and several boutiques that the Clarins group was more than happy to sell off. Despite continued denials from company officials that Balmain is planning to eliminate their couture line altogether, much speculation remains that Ready-to-Wear is the way of the future.

Time will tell on that subject, but for the moment one thing is abundantly clear, Christophe Lebourg delivered what was so desperately needed - a beautiful and commercially sound summer for 2004.

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