My friend Lisa surprised me with the book The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World, by Mary Blume, on my birthday. The lady knows me, what can I say? I enjoy reading all I can put my hands on about Cristóbal Balenciaga. I also view the book as a reinforcement of my opinion that he was the greatest couturier of all time, regarded as such by Chanel and Dior alike. He led a discrete life, ignored the press and dared do what he liked and, yet, he was successful and had a great impact on fashion. Indeed, he made fashion. For all these things, I admire him even more.
Embarking on the difficult task of telling a more in depth story than it had been attempted before about the couturier’s enigmatic life, Mary Blume reached out to Florette Chelot, the first woman Balenciaga hired when he opened his Paris shop and who became his top vendeuse, remaining with him until he shut the doors of his 10 Avenue George V fashion house in 1968. After all, fashion was his life and he spent most of his career years in his workrooms. And the truth is that I have a more complete view over him as a person and designer after having read the book. It was also interested to learn about his friendships with Coco Chanel (whom he fell out with after Chanel said some horrible things about Cristóbal in an interview in Women’s Wear Daily when he refused to have his photo taken with her for the magazine – somehow, I’m not surprised by Chanel’s behaviour) and Hubert de Givenchy, whom Balenciaga helped financially to open his couture house (Givenchy refused to go to Chanel’s funeral because of what she had done to his friend, but Balenciaga did go).
The only regret about the book is that there was not more written about Balenciaga himself. Some chapters are filled with details about fashion in general and biographical notes about other designers, as well as the context of the times, society and Paris in WWII. But maybe trying to decipher the man and couturier is an impossible task and maybe it should remain that way.
photo by me