Fashion, Film, The Reading List

The Reading List: Katharine Hepburn – Rebel Chic

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I’ve read a few bummer style books recently, so I was relieved to find that Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic was, like the woman herself, just delightful – a breath of fresh air during a brisk walk through the professional and personal costumes of a legendary actress and bona fide tomboyish style icon.
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It’s an all-angles approach that permeates this deceptively small book – essays cover Hepburn’s attitude to clothing, her tomboy style (with reference to the blog of the same name), how she was active in the design of her stage and film costumes and an exploration of her relationships with various costume designers.

The pictures selected for the book are divided quite evenly between off-duty Hepburn and her more polished onscreen characters. The latter third of the book is devoted to her costumes, many of which she kept after filming had ended. Hepburn even recycled costumes – wearing a dress from the 1939 stage version of The Philadelphia Story some thirty five years later in The Glass Menagerie (it only had to be let out by two inches, fact fans).
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Katherine Hepburn’s personal style has been the subject of urban myth, which this book busts, but quite gently. The essays are informative but not speculative. It’s not a biography – there are no references to scandalous affairs or scurrilous rumours – it’s just about clothing as pure self expression. Whether to conceal or reveal, Hepburn was adept at using her clothes to convey a message. This book is evidence of that.

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Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Style is published by Skira Rizzoli and is out now.

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Art, Inspiration, Photography, Subculture, The Reading List

The Reading List – Muses: Women Who Inspire

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Muses: Women Who Inspire is a lavish coffee table book, published by Flammarion, all about the romantic muse. ‘Romance’ is definitely the watchword – almost all of the muses in this book were engaged sexually with their masters (for want of a much better word). The modern muse is disregarded – Edie Sedgewick for her drug use, Grace Jones for her perceived lack of longevity and Kate Miss for, well, just being Kate Moss. The woman in this book cover a period of roughly 100 years, from about 1850 to 1950, from the Countess Castiglioni (who, both hearteningly and pathetically, was her own muse) to Giulietta Masina, the sprite-like wife of Federico Fellini.
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This rather large hardback is stuffed to the gills with women, some you have heard of, some who are a whisker away from relegation to the purgatory of obscurity. The selections are wide-ranging from art to literature to film to photography and often quite illuminating, but the treatment of said muses is interesting.

In quite a lot of the profiles, we don’t learn how the women directly influenced the artists – unless it is quite obvious (Salvador Dali using his wife Gala as a model, for example). The women are related to in terms of their influence and not their personality, which is unfortunate. Photographer Lee Miller’s life after her affair with Man Ray is referred to only in a cursory way, which is surprising as that period of her life was the one in which she would make the biggest impact on the world. Rather worryingly, Lewis Carroll’s disputed paedophilia is treated in almost apologetic terms in Alice Liddell’s profile, saying in one breath that his behaviour was dubious and in the next that “one should steer clear of judging a personality that was undeniably complex, paradoxical and disarming”.

The real strength of this book is the layout as well as the selection of muses. A rich and diverse amount of photographs and artworks as well as a rich and diverse group of women are masterfully showcased. The scandals, the heartbreaks, the subtle manipulation – it’s all here. If you like a shot of scandal with your history, you’ll enjoy this book.

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Muses: Women Who Inspire is published by Flammarion and is available in all good bookshops.

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Inspiration, Photography, Subculture

The Reading List: Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom…

… Pinup Photography’s Golden Era.

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The gentle art of pinup photography has been interpreted in a few different ways, first as enjoyable smut, then as kitsch, finally as a postfeminist emancipation proclamation. Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom aims to be all three as well as a fairly enjoyable look back at the career of a very modern woman – both as subject and photographer, usually at the same time.

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Pinup fans will know Bunny Yeager as the woman who partnered with the legendarily versatile, befringed model Bettie Page in the short-lived, but very productive series of pictures that made both their professional reputations. As well as a jobbing photographer, Yeager herself was a model. She would often take self portraits in the pinup style. You can see her looking demure in a bikini, auburn pigtails on each shoulder. A few years later she’s buxom and brazen in black negligee, platinum blonde hair solidifying the contrast. Her ability to transform herself for the camera is remarkable. It’s not hard to agree with the theory that Cindy Sherman was influenced by Yeager’s self portraits.  Here’s a fun fact – Yeager reportedly took those famous photographs of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in Dr.No. No better woman for the job.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABunny Yeager has had a greater impact on the world at large than just nude photographs (of which there are absolute truckloads in this book).  In the forward, Dita von Teese hit the pro-sex nail on the head when she says “By her (Bunny’s) actions, she is challenging what it actually means to be feminist, to let the last taboos about sexuality and nudity go and at the same time to be in control of it all.  This is what it means to be truly liberated”.

The reader may agree or disagree with this sentiment.  However, it is difficult for the reader to spot anything unsavoury about Yeager’s work – all her subjects are ridiculously fresh and healthy looking, whether sunbathing or riding horses or monkeying around (in some cases literally; Yeager loved using animals in pictures).  No-one is inflicting or in pain.  No-one is uncomfortably contorted. In fact, no-one is engaging in anything particularly sexual.  It is all very innocent.

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The photographs, which are split into categories (cheesecake, self-portraits, photo stories and so on) are accompanied with either analysis by Petra Mason or excerpts from the many photography books that Yeager published in her lifetime. Carefully chosen, these snippets are all about women celebrating and not subjecting themselves.  It’s interesting that, over the fifty to sixty years since these photos were taken, pinups have gone from fodder for titillation to a legitimate (if not highbrow) art form. Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom reflects that change, as it is a book primarily written by women for women – although like-minded men will certainly enjoy it too.

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Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom by Petra Mason is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography, Subculture, The Reading List

The Reading List: Where Were You?

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Oh, gosh.

Where to start?

‘Where Were You?’ is a book that charts the evolution of Irish street style from the Fifties until the turn of the century. Meticulously compiled over the past four years by the ever-diligent Garry O’Neill, this heavy book is a true rendering of what street style used to be, before Photoshop and shopping online made everyone look so bloody homogenous.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the book was funded by crowd sourcing website Fundit, it’s incredibly well-put together. The layout is good. It’s almost all pictures with very little text. The sprinkling of words that you do read add some historical contact, but that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t really matter though – the real meat is in the photographs of the (mostly) stylish Hibernians. Who knew that we Irish were stylish? It’s a little-known fact that we should probably shout about a bit more.

This review, like the book itself, is less about the blather and more about the pictures. As a chronicle of style and subculture, it has yet to be topped – although I would love to see someone try.

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NOTE – The vast majority of books on this website are review books sent to me by publishers. Not the case here – I bought this copy of ‘Where Were You?’ myself. I’m just so blatantly gushy because I love it and I think that all streetstyle/subculture gawkers should buy a copy. And, if you don’t have the money to buy a copy, you should definitely check out the Facebook page. It is published by Hi Tone Books in a limited run and is out now.

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Fashion, Inspiration, The Reading List

The Reading List: Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland


If you’re a big Diana Vreeland fan, you’ll notice that books by and on the famous Vogue editor are often… interesting. Not bad interesting, but unconventional. They’re often a bit disjointed, they run in a non-linear style and are often punctuated with incredibly arresting visuals. Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland is one such animal. The book is actually an exhibition catalogue from The Museo Fortuny’s Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland, which closed in June.


The text is split into several parts: they examine Vreeland’s influences and influence in publishing, her career at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the structure and layout of the exhibition as it appeared in the Museo Fortuny in Venice.  Unlike the majority of exhibition catalogues, it isn’t stuffed with essays (although there are essays), rather it’s a compendium of visual and interesting juxtapositions – after all, Vreeland was master of the grand visual statement, the champion of the refined aesthetic statement over the blank, unedited truth.

Roughly, the first 180 pages of the book are pictures.  Glorious pictures, that spill over the pages in an obvious homage to Vreeland’s seminal book Allure, which is jam-packed with her inspirations and proclamations.  Sandwiched in are pictures of the woman herself, her work and her inspirations.  The photos in this post should give the reader a general idea of the bizarre and beautiful hodgepodge within its pages.

The next section deals with the exhibition itself which, sadly, depends on the reader actually having gone to the Museo Fortuny to properly appreciate it.  There are very photographs of the exhibition and costumes in the book; rather there are slight sketches which, while very pretty, don’t give the reader an excellent representative idea of what actually went on display.

What is great is the reappraisal given to Vreeland’s work at the Met’s Costume Institute, which doesn’t get enough attention when compared to her editorial output.  A brief  exploration of her exhibitions is accompanied by press snippets and tidbits.  Some of Vreeland’s legendary Why Don’t You columns for Harper’s Bazaar are reprinted, along with original articles dealing with her museum work.  A well-rounded book, done effectively about exhibitions – and an exhibitionist – this book is a great complement to The Eye Has To Travel book and film – buy them all and you’ve effectively completed the trilogy.

Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland, by Judith Clark and Maria Luisa Frisa, is published by Marsilio and is out now.

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Inspiration, The Reading List

The Reading List: Everything Oz…

…The Wizard Book of Makes & Bakes by Christine Leech and Hannah Read-Baldrey

This is a cute one.  Everything Oz comes to you from the authors of Everything Alice, a themed craft and cookery book all about Alice in Wonderland.  Full disclosure: I have not read Everything Alice… yet.  Everything Oz carries on much in the same vein, with several craft projects and ideas for visually arresting party food inspired by the classic book, films and stage adaptations.

Rainbow cake, anyone?

Some pistachio popcorn, perhaps?  This recipe is the first on my hit list.

Instructions are clear and concise, but you may need some special skills to complete some of the crafts (a knowledge of sewing machines, particular stitches and, oddly, experience with an electric drill will all stand you in good stead).  It’s not all hard stuff though; for every septuple layer rainbow cake there is Emerald City Jelly, for every pair of Ruby Slippers (yes, really) there’s an Emerald hair comb.  While there are some projects which require a lot of effort and time, they don’t seem as if they’d be particularly difficult to do.  If you’re the kind of person who gets an intense payoff from making an incredibly complicated cake, then this is for you.

The layout of this large, colourful, softback book is varied but not cluttered.  A mix of photography, illustrations and snippets of dialogue from the book (a very brief paragraph in Baum and The Wizard of Oz is in the introduction), it’s carefully considered.  The table of contents looks like a Depression-era circus hoarding and the section on Emerald City snacks is delightfully, gleefully green.  It’s immaculately, eye-catchingly laid out – which points to Read-Baldrey’s other career as a props and fashion stylist.

Cute but not cloying, you could complete several of the projects without people necessarily knowing that they were inspired by The Wizard of Oz.  Some of the projects are obviously connected to the books or film (again, the ruby slippers), some not so much (the section on the Oz Apothecary) but that doesn’t really matter – the projects that aren’t obviously Oz more than compensate for it in their cuteness.

The beauty of a good craft book isn’t necessarily its ability to teach a person a new skill – it’s in its ability to inspire people.  This bright and dreamy book makes a not-particularly-crafty person (me) want to have an Emerald City themed party, complete with Tin Man garlands and lanterns – and I think I might do just that.

Everything Oz: The Wizard Book of Makes & Bakes is published by Quadrille and is out now.

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Art, Fashion, The Reading List

The Reading List: What I Wore Today…

… Doodle yourself into a style icon by Gemma Correll.

Whenever I think of Gemma Correll, I don’t think of her massive What I Wore Today Flickr pool or the cult following she inspires – I think of this interview she did with the Save Our Shoes girls over two years ago and how my friend Jo owns one of her ‘Pugs not Drugs’ sweaters (an admirable motto).  Funny, how certain things get stuck in your head.

Tenuous associations aside, this is one of those drawing-books-for-children-and-adults-but-really-it’s-more-for-inner-children types – which I love (although the reference to looking like a ‘knob’ on the back cover is a siren song to unconventional parents) .  Half doodle pad, half encouraging, positive style guide with a dash of Wreck This Journal, What I Wore Today is meant to be a record of you and how you dress.  Mercifully, it’s NOT an exercise in being a pseudo-aspirational clothes horse, which is what might make this book good for teenage girls – I know that I would have loved this book when I was in my teens.

The book is presented in a diary format with spaces and prompts to fill in your own outfits, as well as design your own bags, umbrellas, hairstyles, Christmas jumpers and many more, as well as space for wish lists and fancy dress ideas.  It’s a basic celebration of getting dressed.  No pressures, no body consciousness, no overt trend pushing – just good clean fun. A great book for fervent scribblers, journallers and self-style fiends.

What I Wore Today: Doodle yourself into a style icon by Gemma Correll is published by Spruce and is out now.

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