From Culture to Catwalk: How World Cultures Influence Fashion’ is the second offering from blogger Kristin Knox (she of The Clothes Whisperer) and possibly the first book on the subject that is accessible outside of a university syllabus or fashion professional’s bookshelf.
This book isn’t an authoritative source of world cultures, nor does it pretend to be. Knox makes explicit that the book is an adaptation of The Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. As it stands, the Berg encyclopedia is at ten volumes and counting, so this book, with a not-insubsantial 256 A4 pages will only serve ultimately as an introduction to world dress and not a comprehensive survey (to be fair, this is also something that Knox makes clear).
The book covers Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America, effectively cutting off the influence of the Western world, the native and folk dresses of which countries are no less important in terms of design. Still, the interest in exoticism lies in the broadly-termed East, so that’s where the subject matter is.
Each brief synopsis is illuatrated with full-colour photos, both from the catwalks and the traditional dress of the countries, with a smattering of vintage photographs. Personally, I would have loved to have seen more older photographs and illustration – it really gives a better account of how these forms of dress have grown and evolved into what we see today.
Knox’s prose is crisp, sharp and engaging and the book, as a whole, is well-researched and full of interesting tidbits, whether it be African bloggers, or the death of the Israeli fashion industry. On the whole, the tone is one of eternal optimism; all the developing countries fashion weeks are set towards a bright future.
Quibbles with the text have to be with the pictures and captions, which are, on rare occasions, slightly muddled. A Nickolas Muray photo of Frida Kahlo is incorrectly identified as a ‘Frida Kahlo painting’ and a photo of a woman’s resplendant chest decorated with an elaborated beaded collar is captioned as ‘thousands of Zulu maidens gather for annual Reed Dance’ – which makes no sense due to the number of maidens and notable lack of either reeds or dancing.
If you’re interested in world cultures and fashion then this serves as an excellent introduction. However, if you already know your stuff, then give it a skip. The greater impact of co-opting world cultures to fit in a designer’s collection is a big issue that deserves tackling – in this book it would have made a proper impact. Unfortunately it isn’t touched on here.
Knox hopes that this book will inspire lovers of fashion to look in places other than London, Paris, Milan and New York for inspiration and that it will be a jumping of point for more books on the subject. It’s a noble hope, and after reading this book, one can conclude that it’s not a misguided one.