The Designer Diaries – Queen Sirikit and Balmain

Queen Sirikit, now the Queen Mother of Thailand, turned 88 yesterday. A very happy birthday to her. In honor, this Designer Diary takes us back her younger days, when she was one of the most stylish royals on the scene.

It’s 1960, and the young, glamorous King and Queen of Thailand are embarking on a historic tour of fifteen western countries. Queen Sirikit wants an elegant, seasonally appropriate wardrobe that is not only stylish and flattering, but retains strong nods to her national dress. To achieve her goal, she hires Paris couturier Pierre Balmain. 

Ornament Magazine, Balmain sketch for Queen Sirikit evening gown NUIT A LONDRES. All photographs courtesy of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles.
QUEEN SIRIKIT WEARING Nuit a Londres from Balmain’s Spring 1960 collection

Pierre Balmain was initially trained as an architect, but turned to his first love, fashion design, in 1934. Balmain would forever retain a preference for the neutral colors and sleek style of the 1930s, and his designs would always be notable for their lack of excessive trimming. At one point, he worked as a designer for Lucien Lelong, along with another notable designer of the 20th century, Christian Dior.

The collaboration between Balmain and Queen Sirikit resulted in a touring wardrobe for the ages, one that fits that elusive description of “timeless good taste”. Sirikit’s slim figure was particularly suited to Balmains streamlined designs, and the designer’s aesthetic was suited to the Queen’s particular requirements. Many of the Queen’s accessories were made by Balmain as well. Francois Lesage would join the team, providing the embroidery for the Queen’s formal clothes.

Evening Dress, Balmain, 1960

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After the initial tour collaboration, Balmain continued to design both some of the Queen’s western-style clothes, and he and Lesage worked on her Thai national dress.

Daytime Ensemble, Balmain 1966

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Bangkok Post

Thai Inspired Evening Gown, Balmain 1967

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So strong was the Queen’s interest in design that in 2003, she gained permission to use a building on the palace grounds to house a museum of textile design. The museum houses much of Sirikit’s wardrobe, and if I ever get to Thailand, you can be sure this will be one of the first places I am heading!

Want to know more? See the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles site and Fit for a Queen: Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s Wardrobe Designed by Pierre Balmain. The fabulous Art Historian About Town also did a comprehensive post that goes beyond Queen Sirikit, and it’s definitely worth a read.