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The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World Hardcover – February 5, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374298734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374298739
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Mary Blume, a veteran Paris-based reporter for the International Herald Tribune, offers a peek at the atelier of the haute couture of yore. Blume elegantly weaves vintage gossip together with cultural history and interviews with Balenciaga's last living chums. 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, if not the man himself. —Rhonda Lieberman

Review

“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 [Cristóbal 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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Customer Reviews

Mary Blume has captured the true essence of this man. . . I always considered him the Best of his era.
Beverly Green
The fact that neither the author nor the publishers caught this mistake made me wonder how much of the content of this book is fictional, or simply 'assumed.'
pinkrock0111
Eminently readable, in the end you should read this book not because it is about great fiction, but because it is a great book.
Amelia Gremelspacher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By RobBos on March 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall, an enjoyable read.
The main thing that I did not like was that there was relatively very little about Balenciaga throughout the book, as compared to the extraneous, biographical information of several other people. Almost as if this information was just filler. I understand that the man was notoriously private, so I'm sure getting any "meat" for the core of the book was challenging. Perhaps a more apt title would have been, Balenciaga, a Moment in Time with Those That Knew Him.
I would recommend this book if you are interested in the general histories of fashion, Paris, WWII and society. This is why I liked the book.
If you are looking for an in depth biography of the man (presumably impossible,) then I would look elsewhere.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gerald F. Abbott, M.D. on February 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A great read....for anyone interested in fashion, Paris in the WWII years, and the unique contributions of Balenciaga. The recollections of his vendeuse, Florette, form the core of the book, and are embellished by bits of history left by the reclusive designer himself, and given depth by the looming shadow of the German occupation of Paris. A selection of photographs show some of Balenciaga's great works and the unique people who formed his inner circle and beyond. A fascinating story.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amelia Gremelspacher TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Balenciaga was perhaps the most invisible glamorous person of them all. I have always had a secret place in my heart for fashion which is belied by my appearance, but this book really captivated me. Valencia's was the Basque from Spain who personified French fashion. Two things" that one can state with absolute certainty are that he had sinus trouble and that he loved to ski." He was said to be tall. Pictures show an elegant man. He was even rumored to be more than one man like Shakespeare.

He lived in fabled "interesting times" during which the French convinced the Germans that taking French couture to Germany would be bad for the Germans. One of his customers spent her time in jail in a Balenciago gown. One woman escaped arrest because she dressed by Molyneux.

But the detail that captivated me was the story of a dress being restored. The seamstress exploring a straight seam found out that it was curved to suit the less than narrow client. Sigh, I have to swoon on that one.

Balenciago made the press gaga, but was private and resisted. His friends and employees were the icons of haute couture. His fashions were heart stopping. This book contains it all and is written in an urbane, replete, understated form. Eminently readable, in the end you should read this book not because it is about great fiction, but because it is a great book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Duke on May 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm probably not going to finish this book. I was excited about it because I enjoyed the biography of YSL, The Beautiful Fall, and D.V. for instance; however, this book is grasping at straws to fill out the elusive Balenciaga. The author admits from the start that she is going off of very limited information. I understand the difficulty of constructing a biography about a very private person, but if the dearth of information is truly as bad as the author makes it seem, I don't understand why this isn't a much smaller book. Instead, she chooses to fill in gaps with basic historical information to the point where you forget the subject is Balenciaga or fashion. Basically, if you want to read a book about French and Spanish history in the early 20th century, have at it! Had I not bought the Kindle edition, you could have my copy!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Fancygreysuit on March 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Interesting if you never knew much about Balenciaga. Since not much has been written about him, it does bring some insight on who he was, and how different his 'house' is today. An easy read. Written mainly from stories from his one top vendeuse, so in a way, it's hard to tell how accurate the accounts were.
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21 of 29 people found the following review helpful By E. Sernet on February 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was extremely disappointed in this so called biography. It's about many people but not Balenciaga! The author owns that in the preface,
So why call it a biography.I know what the author was trying to do by layering snipets from the social figures around him through his life. It didn't work. Look at the recent published book by the V&A; Balenciaga, The Shaping of a Master instead of reading about what his eccentric wealthy clients might have chatted about at the Ritz or what his business partner thought and thinking you had any greater insights into this incredible couturier. You don't.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. Lipio on March 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For a great master like Christobal Balenciaga, a very private man, not much of his private life is known. Tons of books and references about his great clothes and obsession of the "Sleeves" make him perhaps the greatest designer of the 20th Century. Here in this book you get a glimpse of the TRUE Balenciaga, the man who is working and makes comments on people, clothes and food. The sensitivity and obsessive ways that make his clothes the perfect dress to wear. A true artist by temper and a craftsman by nature, this book tells you a lot about why he is the Great Balenciaga that he is.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mimi on March 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating fashion history

I throughly enjoyed reading this book. It is a must for anyone interested in dress design and the history in the twentieth century
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