The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World

Mary Blume, Author
Mary Blume. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, $25 (192p) ISBN 9780374298739
Reviewed on: 01/21/2013
Release date: 02/05/2013
Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-4668-3606-8
Paperback - 228 pages - 978-0-374-53438-7
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Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895–1972) was deemed “‘master of us all’” by Christian Dior: by the age of 21 he dressed the queen of Spain, and in 1950, Harper’s Bazaar called him “the most elegant couturier in the world today.” In this intimate, enthusiastic, and lively first biography of the enigmatic designer, Blume (A French Affair) begins by chronicling Balenciaga’s rapid rise from his modest childhood in a Basque fishing village to his highly influential friendship with Paris designer Madeleine Vionnet, his early success in Spain, the establishment of the houses of Balenciaga in Madrid and Barcelona, and his departure in 1936 for Paris, where he presided over the third House of Balenciaga from 1937 to 1968. Though his designs were routinely described as “very Spanish,” Blume notes Balenciaga’s numerous other influences, including Japanese woodcuts and impressionist paintings, and insightfully contextualizes Balenciaga in relation to contemporaries Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy. 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. Photos. (Feb.)
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