Fashion, The Reading List

The Reading List: Man Repeller – Seeking Love, Finding Overalls

Who hasn't gone out to find love and come home with a pair of overalls?

Who hasn’t gone out to find love and come home with a pair of overalls?

Leandra Medine, a.k.a the Man Repeller, has gained a large and rabid online following the success of her blog, which promotes self-love through layering, harem pants and the wearing of generally unsexy things.

On paper (or onscreen, I suppose) it sounds a bit odd. In practise though, it’s unsurprising that Man Repeller became as successful as it did in such a short time. What sane women would turn down a free pass to experiment with her own sense of style, free from the Cosmo-lite rhetoric of fashion magazines that encourage us to dress so our boyfriends won’t leave us for other, much better-dressed, pert-bottomed women. I’ve given my opinions on the MP before (link to the Irish Times article here*) so here’s the tl;dr version (sorry, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Reddit recently) – Man Repeller is genius. Guilt-free love of self and love of fashion; style dictated for ourselves, by ourselves. If Medine didn’t come up with it, someone else would have had to.

Business in the front, party in the back.

Business in the front, party in the back.

Man Repeller: Seeking Love, Finding Overalls is Medine’s first book of essays, and it trades heavily on her existing internet fame. She’s brutally honest, self-effacing, funny and that special type of brave that is reserved for people who write about their lives and the lives of their friends and families with no regard for any personal fallout that might occur. While many bloggers present an idealised version of themselves, with only best best bits on show, it seems that Medine was self-aware enough to realise that growing up in a wealthy, loving family in Manhattan with an enviable wardrobe was already enough life-envy for most people to process without pretending that her personal life was something out of a Disney film. She gains weight, she loses weight, she loses her virginity to a guy who isn’t that into her and she has an unfortunate vomit-y mishap with a precious family heirloom. She’s insecure, she doubts herself, she makes bad decisions and she discovers the joys of reading Joan Didion.

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That being said, Medine is no Joan Didion. She has a strong, strident, easy to read style, but ultimately it’s honesty that makes Man Repeller a page-turner, not writing.

In terms of fashion, clothes are woven into the fabric of Medine’s life. She constructs outfits for different social situations, worries what people will think of her outfits and devises her harem pants as a dating filter, weeding out the posers from the pure at heart. It’s a slim, small book that starts at infancy and ends with marriage, but it’s a style evolution that’s secondary to her own life. It’s a quick, easy and enjoyable biography of the original Man Repeller, not an analysis or step-by-step guide to man repelling.

 

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*To answer Irish Times commenter Tommy, who asked, “Who reads this shit?” I’m not sure if you’re referring to the article or to Man Repeller, but the answer to both, conveniently, is lots. Lots and lots.

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Art, Fashion, Inspiration, Subculture, The Reading List

The Reading List: Punk Press…

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Rebel Rock in the Underground Press, 1968-1980, compiled by Vincent Berniére and Marcel Primois.

Punk Press, much like punk style, doesn’t demand reading, but it does demand intense, concentrated looking. Really look at it. Get into all the cracks and crevices. Weed out the dirt and the anger. Look at how easy it can be to get something out of almost nothing.

Comprising full page facsimiles of the most noted international punk magazines and ‘zines, Punk Press is a must for anyone even remotely interested in the genuine aesthetic and NOT what everyone was wearing at the little ol’ Met Ball (mostly boring – though props go to Giovanna Battaglia and her safety pin crown).

It’s the best in punk style, music and art, with the famous (Linder Sterling’s provocative Buzzcocks collages) to the slightly obscure (Loulou Picasso’s Soviet nods for French magazine series Libération) featuring.

A friend and I spent a few hours looking through the pages and dreaming about how we could make our own ‘zine. You can take that as a good sign – I rarely get inspired to actually ‘do’ something unless pizza or red wine is the end result. Such is the impact of Punk Press, or indeed, the punk presses at large.

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Punk Press is published by Abrams and is out now.

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Fashion, The Reading List

The Reading List: Fabulous Frocks

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The evening light is nice, isn’t it? It makes me want to throw open the curtains and… keep on reading in bed.

It’s still very, very cold outside.

Fabulous Frocks by Sarah Gristwood and Jane Eastoe is one of those books that will pop up in your Amazon recommendations after only one fashion-related purchase, such is its popularity. A broad introduction to the most feminine garment (save for the bra, I suppose), it manages to cover a large period of time in a brisk way without reverting to overchewed facts or a patronising, simpering tone – both are usually annoyingly present in books that have to convey a relatively complicated subject in simple terms to a large audience.
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The recently-published new edition is updated (mostly – and slightly perturbingly – with pictures of Kate Middleton) and the selection of images are well thought out, roughly spanning the past century. The reader will have seen some of the images before – but those who have seen them all are obvious fashion archivists and can be on my team for the next Big Style Pub Quiz. The wearers are not the stars however; the dresses are.

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Split into history and theme, Fabulous Frocks manages to weave together the history of the modern dress without leaving huge gaps in the narrative. It is first and foremost a photo book, but the text is not by any means an afterthought. The tone is pragmatic and practical with a dash of feminist outlook – refreshingly unlike a fashion text aimed at everyone. No aspirational guff here.

If you’re looking for in-depth exposition or indeed in-depth anything, you won’t find it here. Fabulous Frocks is rather unsatisfyingly short – it could easily have been twice as long and still would not have been long enough. However, its a lovely starter book for someone just getting into fashion as well as a job-doing reference bank of dress images.
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The new edition of Fabulous Frocks is out now.

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Fashion, The Reading List

The Reading List: Diana Vreeland, Empress of Style

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Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is the first full-length biography of the legendary Vogue editor and self-mythologiser where words and facts take precedence over pictures and unverified if exciting anecdotes.  How did Diana Vreeland go from a well to-do housewife to one of the most powerful people in fashion?  And how did her remarkable mind and creative disregard for beauty over truth develop?  This book, by biographer Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, attempts to answer those questions.

Vreeland, ‘the High Druidess of fashion, the Supreme Pontiff, Perpetual Curate and Archpresbyter of elegance, the Vicaress of style’ did not start out in life commanding the religious reverence that the previous quote implies, but instead had a difficult childhood, forever in the shadow of a beautiful younger sister and treated badly by a capricious, adventurous mother who (as these things often go no matter how much pink hair dye we put on) Diana resembled more in personality and outlook the older she became.

This book counters the obvious beautiful lies that Diana told as she invented herself.  Diana was born in Paris, but did not grow up there as she had claimed.  However, a more outlandish tale, that of Buffalo Bill teaching Diana and her sister to ride horses, may actually be true.  Mackenzie Stuart assesses Diana’s claims on its individual merits, not treating each one with scepticism but with a calm researcher’s eye.

This book is heavy on the fascinating details of Diana’s career, especially on how she came to win her jobs as editor of American Vogue and at the Costume Institute.  Grace Mirabella, Diana’s successor at Vogue, appears as a conflicted figure in the text but there is still a little meat missing from the controversial and quite sad story of how Diana came to fall from Grace at Vogue.

Diana’s personal life, especially that with her two sons, is not examined in great depth, though her relationship with husband Reed (who appears in the book as a bit of a well-dressed enigma) is given more space on paper.  The two sons do not appear as voices in the book – it’s a shame because, as the documentary The Eye Has to Travel shows, both have a great deal of interesting and often painful things to say about their mother.

The book is well-written, accessible, entertaining and nicely-paced.  With a life as unsure and clouded with half-truths as Diana Vreeland’s, the temptation to insert your own take on her life must be immense.  However, this biography does justice to the great lady’s legacy.

Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is published by Thames and Hudson and is out in hardback now.

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Art, Fashion, Photography

The Reading List: Antonio Lopez…

…Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco by Roger and Mauricio Padilha.

Brought to you by the brother team behind the Stephen Sprouse book, Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco is heavy on the fashion and art, profligate with the sex and mercifully sparing with any disco tendencies.  As a luxe retrospective of the man who changed fashion illustration into a fairly straightforward representation of clothing into a glamorous, high-burning lifestyle to aspire to, it is comprehensive, but not bleatingly sympathetic.

The book charts Lopez’ work, as it goes from black and white Bridget Riley’esque Op Art illustrations for WWD, to the louche lines and Toulouse-Lautrec inspired saturated colour arrangements of Maxime de la Falaise, to his own hyper-sexualised clean drawings, which would become one of the most obvious signifiers of his era.  His style totally typified the 80’s – stark, one coloured, androgynous faces of many races, most with contrasting slashes of blusher and deep, dark eyeshadow.

The book is not just illustration;  Lopez used his Instamatic without thought for the prohibitive price of film – his photos make the viewer feel voyeuristic, so sexual are they.  The sheer volume of exposed supermodel breast on show makes the reader feel as if they’ve gone through a secret cache of private photos on a famous person’s phone. Such is the power of instant film and the Lopez clique.

With those are many, many photos of Lopez and his partner, Juan Ramos, out and about, enjoying beach holidays with Karl Lagerfeld and horsing around with Jerry Hall.  The mix of biography and retrospective is hardly surprising – The work of Lopez was radically intertwined with all other aspects of his life.  He socialised with his muses (even becoming briefly engaged to Jerry Hall) and stayed with Ramos as an artistic and business partner long after their romantic relationship had waned.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the selection of pages from his diary – mostly sketches, some photos, scraps and a smattering of words.  The breadth of his talent was ever-expansive. Through these diary pages we see a distilled essence of what shines through the whole book – love.  It is pure, unabashed love which powered Lopez’ work –  love of life, of colour, of form, of the fulfillment brought through work and taking advantage of every available opportunity.

Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco, by Roger and Mauricio Padilha, is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

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Fashion, Photography, The Reading List

The Reading List; The ‘Vogue On…’ Designer Series

The Vogue On… Designer series has been debuted this month by the good folks at Quadrille Publishing with a bumper crop of revered designers. Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel (of course) have been given the Vogue treatment in four not-quite-pocket-sized, accessibly slim volumes.

It’s hard not to notice the proliferation of Vogue-themed books that are starting to dominate this winter’s output of fashion books. We have this series to contend with, the release of Vogue: The Editor’s Eye with Abrams, Grace: A Life by Vogue’s popular creatice director Grace Coddington with Harper Collins and the updated version of In Vogue: A History with Rizzoli. Vogue literally has a book in every good publishing house.

Quadrille are a publishing house better known for their beautifully presented cookery books – all of which are rich, aspirational snapshots of a distinctly culinary lifestyle. They are also the publishers of one of my favourite fashion books, Celia Birtwell, which is a very sweet, visually appealing travel through a life not totally untouched by scandal – a scandal that is almost totally ignored (and with good reason – the book isn’t a biography). It’s with that in mind that I read the Vogue On… series. I have no expectations of hearing about Coco Chanel’s anti-Semitism, McQueen’s demons or the cultural implications of Dior forcing corsets on a generation of women who were finally beginning to liberate themselves. It’s all about the clothes – the designer’s lives are told through their body of work.

The books are beautifully presented, with half slipcovers revealing full-scale covers of fashion plates and portraits of the designers previously seen in Vogue. Almost every illustration and photograph came originally from the magazine. The writers of each book are also Vogue alumni, with varying results.

Coco Chanel

It’s incredibly hard to say something new about Coco Chanel that hasn’t already been said before – unless it’s to praise or denounce her. This book chooses to do the former. While Chanel’s activities as an Axis spy are up for debate and might have no place in this book, the omission of her attempt to wrest power from her Jewish partners, the Wertheiemers, through exploitation of anti-semitic laws is far too wrapped up in her legacy and her work not to be dealt with. Chanel was an incredibly complicated person, as women put under intense scrutiny usually reveal themselves to be. There is an imbalance between dark and light here, so the Chanel we read about is a little lopsided; a frivolous aesthete instead of a ruthless businesswoman. Illustration-wise, there is much that we haven’t seen from Vogue’s archives and this book is worth buying on pictures alone – sketches by Beaton and Berard, dresses from the Twenties, reams of colourful costume jewellery and some salient but not overused snippets of wisdom from the woman herself.

Alexander McQueen

I gave this book to my mother (who is, admittedly, not a huge McQueen fan) to flick through and she had the bulk of the book finished in twenty minutes. “It’s very accessible, isn’t it?’ she said to me on handing it back. And it is accessible; an accessibility that (joyfully) directly contravenes the drama and violence of McQueen’s work. Written by Chloe Fox, Vogue on Alexander McQueen is a easy, pleasant, well paced read. The photographs are a great mix of the social, catwalk and editorial and build up a great picture of one man’s singular working life. McQueen fans aren’t going to encounter anything that they haven’t seen before, but this is a great place to start – a lovely addition to any bookshelf.

Elsa Schiaparelli

My incredibly biased favourite in terms of photographs and illustrations, Vogue on Schiaparelli is chock-a-block full of beautiful, masterly fashion plates from the golden age of art at Vogue. Schiaparelli’s Surrealist leanings were tailor-made for full-colour, semi-abstract drawings and the book is full of them. Schiaparelli herself was a bit of an elusive figure, often left in the shadow of her couture nemesis Chanel. While we follow her life and work the enigmatic Schiaparelli who emerges from the pages of this book is strangely bloodless and monotone in contrast with the vibrancy of her work.  What does emerge from the work, though, is a picture of a woman only now starting to get her due.  Again, well worth buying for the photos and illustrations alone.

Christian Dior

We all know about the label, but delve into your fashion knowledge and you may find that you know close to nothing about the man – not surprising considering that Dior’s career at his eponymous house would last only a decade.  I there’s one word that sums up this volume, it’s ‘elegant’ – all clean lines, arched brows, long swan-like necks, the quizzical expressions of Lisa Fonssagrieves and the perfectly composed black and white photographs of Avedon.  The story of Dior’s career is dealt with in a breezy, pacy style in an easy read.  Accessibility, again, is the watchword.

The Vogue On… Designers series is published by Quadrille and is out now.

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Fashion, Subculture, The Reading List

The Reading List: City of Style…

… Exploring Los Angeles Fashion from Bohemian to Rock by Melissa Magsaysay.

LA is known for a lot of things; In-N-Out Burger, the star system, the smog and the abundance of posers, hustlers, artists and beautiful people who proliferate the streets with studied cool.

Those of us who haven’t been to LA will automatically assume that it’s not a particularly stylish city, especially in comparison with fashion capitals like London and Milan or districts with their own distinct fashion identity, like Stockholm or Brooklyn.  My sister is in LA at the moment.  She texted my mother to say that a millionaire pro poker player bought her lobster (alright for some, I say, tucking into a bowl of rice pudding with jam).  In terms of life as well as fashion, LA is not un-stylish; it just plays by its own rules.

City of Style is the attempt to unravel the various subcultures and style tribes of LA. Sociological study this isn’t; each chapter consists of a short history of the trend, along with who wears it, coupled with the various address of useful shops and style profiles of suitably sun-kissed Angelenos.  There are seven key trends explored; however, the only problem with the laidback, melting pot LA style is that trends eventually blend into and leech from each other – The Romantic Bohemians have elements of the Indie Eclectics, the Casual Chic look owes much to both the Rockers and the Skaters and Surfers.  Some of the people whose style is profiled could fit easily into two or even three different chapters quite easily – the lines are not clearly defined.

The book is well researched (the chapter on Chola style is particularly interesting and deftly handled from a cultural appropriation point of view – odd picture of Miley Cryus dressing up as a chola notwithstanding) with a varied assortment of people contributing interviews.  Where else but in LA could you have Tony Hawk, Slash and Monique Lhuillier contributing to the same book?

Like LA itself, City of Style is a mishmash of different types; picking and choosing the best bits to make one sprawling whole.  It’s one part cultural history, one part travelogue, part shopping guide, part endorsement, part style manual, part street style book.  The endpages hold a bibliography for further reading – a must if some of the chapters pique your interest and you’d like to learn more about Skaters, Cholas or Glamour Gals.  So far, it’s the most comprehensive survey of LA style that has yet to be undertaken – it’s a crime that something like this hasn’t been thought of before.

If you adore the So Cal street style or just want to learn more about LA fashion, this is a great place to start.  If however, you want to delve more into a particular subculture, you may be better off searching elsewhere – this book is an excellent foundation and cover-all, but not an encyclopedia.

City of Style: Exploring Los Angeles Fashion from Bohemian to Rock is published by Itbooks and is out now.

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