When Cristobal Balenciaga died in 1972, the news hit the front page of The New York Times. One of the most innovative and admired figures in the history of haute couture, Balenciaga was, as Elsa Schiaparelli said, "the only designer who dares do what he likes." He was, said Christian Dior, "the master of us all." But despite his extraordinary impact, Balenciaga was a man hidden from view. One woman knew Balenciaga very well indeed. The first person he hired when he opened his Paris house (at the time furnished with only a table and a stool) was Florette Chelot, who became his top vendeuse - as much an adviser as a saleswoman.
Mary Blume, a native New Yorker who lives in Paris, was a longtime columnist for the International Herald Tribune. She is the author of Cï¿?te d'Azur: Inventing the French Riviera and of a collection of her Herald Tribune pieces, A French Affair.