The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Work,
His Rooms, His World
by Mary Blume
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
240 pages, $25.
WHILE ostensibly telling the story of the great fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, Mary Blume offers a wider view of the French fashion scene and larger social significance—wider, perhaps, than some might think it deserves. She relates how France’s ascendancy to haute couture “began when Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Batiste Colbert, informed the king that the silk weavers of Lyons were as valuable to the French economy as the gold mines of Peru were to Spain. … Having shown that it had a use, fashion came to have a meaning. It spoke volumes to Balzac and Baudelaire and Proust.”