article

03.03.11

Mystery of the Missing Designer

Balmain designer Christophe Decarnin’s failure to appear at his own fashion show on Thursday has sparked rumors that he's checked into a mental hospital, following a drug-fueled breakdown. Isabel Wilkinson reports.

John Galliano’s scandalous ousting at Dior was just the beginning. Paris Fashion Week took another dramatic turn on Thursday morning at the Balmain show, when the line’s designer, Christophe Decarnin, failed to take a bow for his collection.

The glaring absence has sparked rumors in the fashion community. Shocked members of the audience speculated it was the result of a breakdown fueled by drugs. Immediately after the show, Hint Magazine reported that the designer has been in a mental hospital since January. The president of the fashion company told reporters that Decarnin was not there because he was tired after working on the collection until 5 a.m. But as a Balmain spokesperson told The Daily Beast, the designer “is not feeling well” and “by doctor’s orders needs rest, and that is the only reason he was not present at the show.”

After the last model walked off the runway at Balmain’s Fall/Winter 2011 show on Thursday morning, the audience waited expectantly for Decarnin to appear for his final bow. But instead, a security guard stepped onstage, and the lights went up in the house. Gasps spread through the crowd, and a scrum of reporters descended on Balmain’s owner, M. Alain Hivelin. “He’s tired after working on the collection,” Hivelin insisted. The Telegraph’s Hilary Alexander – who was in the crowd of journalists – misheard. Tired? Or retired? "No, he's not retired. He's just tired. He didn't go to bed until 5 a.m. He's not here, he's resting," Hivelin told her. But a Balmain spokesperson contradicted Hivelin, telling The Daily Beast that Decarnin hadn’t, in fact, been working on the collection until 5 a.m.: “What he meant is that he was exhausted,” the spokesperson said. “He has been exhausted because this season was particularly demanding and complicated. “

The spokesperson says that the rumors about a breakdown from drugs and the mental hospital are “completely untrue.” The spokesperson wouldn’t say the cause of his ailment, only that it was “not anything physical.”

After the show, Hint Magazine reported via an anonymous source that Balmain told employees back in mid-January that the designer would not be returning. According to the magazine’s blog, Melanie Ward, the house’s stylist, had completed the collection herself. (Ward, who was seated in the audience, fielded questions about the collection from reporters after the show.)

But again, the spokesperson denies that the collection was completed without Decarnin. “This collection was done under his directives,” the spokesperson said. “But in the last weeks, he hasn’t been involved 100 percent—or as much as he would like.” The spokesperson says only that this season was executed by the house’s “loyal” design team – and that it is this design team that will continue to work until Decarnin has recovered and resumed work at an unknown time.

Decarnin, 46, has been at Balmain since 2005, where he has become known for a rock 'n’roll aesthetic: skin-tight dresses, chainmail—and extraordinarily high prices. According to Ward, this season was inspired by “workwear.”

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Isabel Wilkinson is a fashion and arts correspondent for The Daily Beast.