Mary Blume, a native New Yorker who lives in Paris, was a longtime columnist for the International Herald Tribune. She is the author of Cote dAzur: Inventing the French Riviera and of a collection of her Herald Tribune pieces, A French Affair.
A sparkling life of the monumental fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga
When Cristobal Balenciaga died in 1972, the news hit the front page of The New York Times. One of the most innovative and admired figures in the history of haute couture, Balenciaga was, said Schiaparelli, the only designer who dares do what he likes. He was, said Christian Dior,the master of us all.
But despite his extraordinary impact, Balenciaga was a man hidden from view. Unlike todays celebrity designers, 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 notable and devoted clientsMarlene Dietrich, Barbara Hutton, a clutch of Rothschildsnever met him.
But one woman knew Balenciaga very well indeed. The first person he hired when he opened his Paris house (then furnished with only a table and a stool) was Florette Chelot, who became his top vendeuseas much an adviser as a saleswoman. 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 house through the eyes of the woman who knew him best. 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.