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The Master of Us All


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A sparkling life of the monumental fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga.

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 Cote d'Azur: Inventing the French Riviera and of a collection of her Herald Tribune pieces, A French Affair.


"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 Florette's with astute reporting, tracing Balenciaga's--and haute couture's--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 fashion's other revolutionaries, Chanel and Vionnet." --Megan O'Grady, Vogue.com "Elegantly weaving interviews with Balenciaga's last living chums . . . with cultural history, Blume's account follows Balenciaga's 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, Blume's artful blend of history, reporting, and chat conjures the designer's world. . ." --Rhonda Lieberman, Bookforum "Blume's extensive interviews with [Cristobal Balenciaga's 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. Blume's needle's-eye portrait nearly supports Hubert de Givenchy's conviction that his mentor was 'a perfect man' and almost renders plausible Diana Vreeland's 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

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