Synopses & Reviews
A sparkling life of the monumental fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga
One of the most innovative and admired figures in the history of haute couture, Cristóbal Balenciaga was, said Christian Dior, “the master of us all.”
Despite his extraordinary impact, Balenciaga was a man hidden from view. He saw to it that little was known about him, to the point that some French journalists wondered if he existed at all. Even his most devoted clients—Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Hutton, a clutch of Rothschilds—never met him.
But one woman knew Balenciaga very well indeed. The first person he hired when he opened his Paris house was Florette Chelot, who became his top vendeuse. She witnessed the spectacular success of his first collection, and they worked closely for more than thirty years, until 1968, when Balenciaga abruptly closed his house without telling any of his staff. Youth-oriented fashion was taking over, Paris was in upheaval, and the elder statesman wanted no part of it.
In The Master of Us All, Mary Blume tells the remarkable story of the man and his world. Intimate and revealing, this is an unprecedented portrait of a designer whose vision transformed an industry but whose story has never been told until now.
“This thoughtful and stylishly written book is perhaps the most serious and intelligent biography of a fashion designer ever written.” —Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic
“One of the best biographies written about any personality in fashion… Take my word for it: Buy it, read it, and love it!” —Jeffrey Felner, New York Journal of Books
“The wit and sharp eye of Mary Blume have made the French accessible . . . Rather like Nabokov with butterflies, she pins her specimens to the page in full color.” —Gore Vidal
“[A] penetrating and entertaining new biography.” —Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times
“Intimate, enthusiastic, and lively first biography of the enigmatic designer. . . Blume, former culture columnist for the International Herald Tribune, writes with wit and aplomb; she was also a Balenciaga client, a fact that clearly informed the revealing and laudatory perspective shared with readers here.” —Publishers Weekly
“[A] captivating new biography . . . [Blume] rounds out her recollections and Florettes with astute reporting, tracing Balenciagas—and haute coutures—rise against a richly embroidered swath of social history. . . Despite her impossibly private subject, Blume goes a long way toward illuminating Balenciaga within his own context, finding his scope of influence on par with that of fashions other revolutionaries, Chanel and Vionnet.” —Megan OGrady, Vogue.com
“Elegantly weaving interviews with Balenciagas last living chums . . . with cultural history, Blumes account follows Balenciagas top vendeuse Florette Chelot, who provides a keen . . . perspective on midcentury Luxe. Like a Balenciaga suit designed to skim the body rather than hug it, Blumes artful blend of history, reporting, and chat conjures the designers world. . .” —Rhonda Lieberman, Bookforum
“Blumes extensive interviews with [Cristóbal Balenciagas top saleswoman, Florette] Chelot, who stayed with Balenciaga from his first collection, in 1937, to his last, in 1968, yield fresh material about an enigmatic man whose creations—such as ‘the pillbox, ‘the sack, and ‘the baby-doll—are still imitated today, even if his reclusive self-effacement is not. Balenciaga cultists will delight in such character-revealing minutiae as the designer's technique for stirring up impeccable martinis (blot the ice first), his habit of wearing a hairnet to relax his curls, and his maniacal penchant for re-pinning sleeves. Blumes needles-eye portrait nearly supports Hubert de Givenchys conviction that his mentor was ‘a perfect man and almost renders plausible Diana Vreelands claim that the novel beauty of a Balenciaga show so overpowered her ‘it was possible to blow up and die.” —Amy Fine Collins, Vanity Fair
About the Author
Mary Blume, a native New Yorker who lives in Paris, was a longtime columnist for the International Herald Tribune. She is the author of Côte dAzur: Inventing the French Riviera and of a collection of her Herald Tribune pieces, A French Affair.