A FASHION PURIST who reportedly never gave a single interview, Cristóbal Balenciaga created a revolution with his subtle hand and rigorous tailoring. So flattering were the cut and construction of his clothes that Diana Vreeland once declared, "In a Balenciaga you were the only woman in the room." Born in a small Basque village in Spain in 1895, Balenciaga worked in his mother's seamstress shop and found his first client at 13 when a local countess permitted him to copy one of her couture dresses. She later paid his way to Madrid for formal training. By 1919 Balenciaga had his own couture salons in San Sebastian, Barcelona and Madrid, but the Spanish Civil War forced him to decamp to Paris. It was there that he showed some of fashion's most influential silhouettes, including the cocoon coat, the chemise and the baby-doll dress. His presentations were held a full month after other Paris houses', but that didn't deter devoted clients like Wallis Simpson, Princess Grace and Babe Paley. They were devastated when Balenciaga closed his house in 1968. But the legacy of his architectural silhouettes lived on in the work of several former assistants, including Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin and Hubert de Givenchy. This season Nicolas Ghesquière, the current designer for the reinvigorated house, has staged a dramatic revival of the house's archives and, in doing so, has put Balenciaga the man and the master back in the fashion spotlight.