Balenciaga: The Master of us All

At the suggestion of a friend (or rather, his daughter) I just finished reading Mary Blume’s The Master of us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, his World. I can’t say for sure whether it was the quality of the writing, the subject matter itself, or merely nostalgia for a time when I had it in my head that I would some day move to Paris to work in one of the great couture houses, such as they still existed, but it was a book that I put down at the penultimate chapter (but just for a while) merely because I didn’t want it to end.

“The master of us all” was the way in which Christian Dior referred to the reclusive Spanish couturier, details of whose life are so scant that a large portion of the book deals with the subject from the viewpoint of his primary vendeuse, though that doesn’t much diminish the story itself. It may seem odd to our selfie-obsessed society that the namesake of one of the twentieth century’s most important fashion houses should shun the spotlight, having granted a sum total of one interview over the course of his career and who preferred to hide behind the curtain at the end of each défilé rather than the customary appearance on what would eventually become a catwalk, but one does not have to read too deeply between the lines to understand his longing for privacy.

I had always admired his sculptural cutting and it had a profound influence on my own obsession with shape, and I was surprised to learn that we were similarly afflicted with a somewhat unhealthy fixation with sleeves, the story of one of his shipments being delayed when he decided to rip them all out and have them reset to his liking being somewhat close to my own experience…

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